Taking a computer science course will be a graduation requirement starting next year.
Nearly 2,100 more high school students are enrolled in a computer science course than last year. That’s the largest one-year increase since the governor first launched his computer science initiative.
Arkansas became the first state to require all high schools to teach computer science after the passage of Act 187 in 2015. During the 2014-2015 school year, 1,104 students were enrolled in a computer science course. For the current school year, 12,547 students are enrolled in at least one class and approximately 1,100 are taking multiple courses.
“The message is that Arkansas continues to lead in the nation in terms of our computer science education program,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said during today’s weekly press conference.
The percentage of African American students taking a computer science course exceeded the general high school population of students for the first time in 2020. This year, racial percentages of students taking high school level computer science courses remain close to general population percentages.
The male to female enrollment gap shrank by 2 percent over the last year with 70 percent male enrollment and 30 percent female enrollment. The state’s computer science program is on a very sustainable track, said Ivy Pfeffer, Arkansas Department of Education deputy commissioner.
“We saw growth at every grade level in students taking computer science courses, so it is exciting news,” she said.
Up until now, Arkansas schools were only required to offer computer science courses. Next year, enrolling in a class will be mandatory. Act 414 of 2021 requires all students to earn one credit in high school computer science starting with next year’s 9th grade class.
Beginning with the 2023-2024 school year, public school districts will also be required to employ a computer science teacher at each high school in their district. At the start of this initiative, the state had 20 certified teachers. That’s grown to nearly 600.
One of the outcomes of investing in the state’s computer science program, Hutchinson said, is a growth of technology companies in Arkansas.
“So it’s for the students, but it’s also for our competitive level in terms of our economy,” he said.
During this afternoon’s press conference, the governor and Arkansas Health Secretary Dr. José Romero also received their flu shots as a way to encourage others to get theirs. The 2017-2018 flu season was the deadliest for the state with officials reporting 228 influenza-related deaths. That number dropped to 23 last year, likely because of COVID-19 public health precautions such as social distancing and masking.
With COVID-19 cases on the decline following this summer’s surge, there are fewer calls for social distancing and masking. Officials are worried this could lead to a difficult flu season. Influenza cases reported from May to September are already higher than the average number of cases from 2016-2021.
It’s important for people to get vaccinated against the flu and COVID-19 in order to prevent a “twindemic,” a spike in the number of influenza cases and COVID-19 cases at the same time, Romero said. Children as young as 6 months old are eligible for the flu vaccine.
“Children, infants, adolescents and adults, they should receive the vaccine. They should receive it now before flu season actually starts,” he said. “We don’t want to put an extra stress on our health care system on top of COVID.”
Arkansans 12 and older are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. Officials anticipate approval to vaccinate younger children will be announced in November.
More information about flu and COVID-19 vaccines is available on the Arkansas Department of Health’s website.