Gov. Hutchinson Touts Computer Science, Discusses Special Session In Jonesboro Visit

by Michael Wilkey (mwilkey@talkbusiness.net) 16 views 

This fall, Java may be more than just coffee and Pizza may be more than what is served in school cafeterias as students prepare to learn even more about computer coding, officials said Tuesday.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson visited Jonesboro High School Tuesday morning as part of a statewide initiative to allow students to learn about the issue.

The Arkansas legislature approved a bill this session, with Hutchinson signing it into law, supporting the teaching of computer science in the state’s high schools.

The initiative will begin this upcoming school year, with students being able to take one year of computer science as part of their graduation requirements.

“We are not mandating the class, but giving the students the choice and option,” Hutchinson said.

The classes will be offered to schools free of charge the first year through the Arkansas Virtual Academy, Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson told the nearly 300 or so students that computer science once involved “people being able to turn on Microsoft Windows,” but has since grown to people building and writing computer code.

The governor said there are estimates that nearly 1 million jobs will be available in the field between now and 2020 in the United States.

There has been a shortage of people being trained for the field, Hutchinson said, noting companies have to import computer engineers from India and China to complete the work.

While nearly 10% of the country’s high schools offer the curriculum, the Jonesboro School District has been a leader in the field, Hutchinson said.

Andy Hostetler, a computer science teacher at Jonesboro High School, said the district offers computer science classes to students at the school including an entry-level programming course.

ORIGINS OF THE IDEA
Hutchinson said his granddaughter, then 11, had learned computer science in school and helped to develop a computer app for his successful gubernatorial campaign in 2014.

Also, he said he learned the need for computer coding while serving as a Homeland Security undersecretary for former President George W. Bush.

A computer program that was developed helped to stop a dangerous situation, Hutchinson said.

The program, which fed information on ships into a database, helped detect a cache of weapons being brought from China through South America.

“It said, ‘chilled trout’ … but something did not seem right,” Hutchinson said of the ship’s manifest. “So you can see that software coding helped protect our country.”

Hutchinson said he is hopeful that the computer coding initiative can be expanded to other grades, especially at the lower-grade level.

SPECIAL SESSION
After the event, Hutchinson spoke to Talk Business and Politics about his call for a special session to discuss a bond issue for an economic development project in Camden.

During a speech Monday before the Political Animals Club in Little Rock, Hutchinson discussed the session, which is scheduled to start May 26.

If approved by the legislature, the bond issue would help Lockheed Martin to try to secure a contract with the United States Army and Marine Corps to build the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle.

The vehicle would be the successor to the Humvee.

Content partner The City Wire reported Tuesday that the Army plans to buy 49,909 of the vehicles by 2040, while the Marines plan to buy 5,500 by 2022.

A decision on the contract, in which Lockheed Martin, Oshkosh and AM General are the finalists, is expected by late summer.

Hutchinson said the project would have a much needed impact in South Arkansas as well as the rest of the state.

“It would not only impact the 1,100 jobs (600 to be created and 550 currently at Highland Industrial Park) but also the satellite industries, especially with the online assembly of vehicles,” Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson said other industries like the steel industry would also benefit, but that the results would be hard to measure.

As for other issues that may be discussed in the special session, Hutchinson said he expects the session to be short and his office will continue to talk to legislators to gauge support on adding other items to the agenda.

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