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Arkansas Governor Touts High School Computer Science

As the state’s governor, Asa Hutchinson has boosted the number of high school students taking computer science from 1,000 to more than 8,000, and has raised state funding for the program to $2.5 million.

(TNS) — Most people probably wouldn't expect Mulberry and its 1,641 residents to be ripe with technology talent. A visit Monday from Gov. Asa Hutchinson indicated it is.

Hutchinson finished his fall 2019 computer science tour at Mulberry High School, where he "wanted to brag on" the students participating in the coding and robotics classes and encourage others to try them out.

"It's important to know that life sometimes unfolds for you in unexpected ways," Hutchinson told the students. "The key is what you're doing right now — to learn, to study and to be prepared for whatever life brings your way and to take advantage of opportunities."

Hutchinson said the skills being taught now will provide good-paying jobs for the students and their future families.

Mulberry/Pleasant View was one of the first districts to receive expanded broadband internet as part of Hutchinson's efforts to ensure all high schools can connect to the fastest internet connection. So far, 98% of all high schools have this access.

Students use and Virtual Arkansas to learn coding, cybersecurity and other technology topics. Hutchinson said computer science can lead students to careers in security, software development, 3D printing, drone operation or simply help someone build a website for a hair salon.

Hutchinson started his computer science tours five years ago and said a lot has changed since the very first ones.

"It was like I was speaking as someone from a faraway planet. People didn't seem as interested, the kids had a harder time grasping the concepts," Hutchinson said. "Now, you come to a school that not only understands it but (the students) are asking very good questions. They are very engaged in it, they want to know more and they're already taking it."

Around 1,000 students were taking computer science classes and the state only had about 20 teachers for the courses when Hutchinson began his initiative to grow the subject. He said there are now more than 8,000 students participating with a large spike in young girls taking classes.

The state has funded $2.5 million annually to help fund the programs, so students in all areas of the state can learn computer science, requiring all high schools to provide coding classes. He said Arkansas has laid a good foundation from kindergarten through high school, but it has to keep up and maintain the progress. This means ensuring students have technology and IT hardware to keep learning and promoting additional education.

Hutchinson said he wants to see kids learn more coding languages — HTML, CSS, Javascript and Python are some of the most well-known ones — and dive into blockchain technology, which uses cryptography.

The governor doesn't want computer science to stop at school, though, which is why the state is working with the private sector on a $25 million investment to provide high-speed internet for rural communities. Hutchinson wants students from all locations and financial backgrounds to have the resources to take their skills and make the world better.

Hutchinson is excited about the progress Mulberry, and the entire state, is making. He said businesses are relocating to Arkansas while others are expanding their technology career opportunities, because it can provide talented workers with the necessary skills to get the job done.

"The fact that Arkansas is leading the nation in computer science education, it stuns a few people," Hutchinson said. "But then they say, 'Well, let's take a second look.' We're having technology companies locate here, because of the talent we're producing and the entrepreneurial spirit that we have. Technology will continue to be a part of our future."

©2019 Times Record (Fort Smith, Ark.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.