At James Campbell High School in Ewa Beach, students are solving real-world problems when they do their homework for Mr. Delos Reyes’ Advanced Placement Computer Science course.

“This class lets your creativity fly,” said Redwan, a senior who’s partnered with two of his peers to design an app for the local nonprofit Kahi Mohala to help the HR team streamline its filing and paperwork for new hires, leaving more time for staff to deliver life-changing health and human services.

It’s more than an uplifting assignment. When Redwan graduates, he’ll walk into young adulthood with computer science skills that position him for employment in the fastest-growing, highest-paid job sector.

James Campbell High School in Ewa Beach is just one of an estimated 102 traditional public schools less than half the schools in our state that offer computer science classesSuevon Lee/Civil Beat

Yet, despite the high rigor and relevance of the academic credits he’s accrued in Mr. Delos Reyes’ class, these credits can’t count toward graduation requirements in math or science, as Hawaii is one of just 16 states that doesn’t yet recognize high-level computer science coursework as an essential component of a future-oriented academic core curriculum.

Redwan still has a leg up in preparation for our changing economy, though, because Campbell is just one of an estimated 102 traditional public schools less than half the schools in our state that offer computer science classes in the first place.

The Future Gets Closer

The truth is, we have a ways to go before every student has an equitable shot at advanced science, technology, engineering and math learning. That’s why HawaiiKidsCAN, a local education advocacy organization I helped to found last year, has published these statistics and many more in our latest research report, State of Computer Science Education in Hawaii 2018, available for free on our website. The report provides an essential snapshot of where we stand in preparing our keiki for the world of tomorrow.

Ready or not, the future gets closer every day: a high-tech workforce with jobs that don’t exist yet; social challenges that will require adept, innovative and truly creative solutions; and a growing demand for STEM skills across every sector.

Our kids need to be ready.

Between 2014 and 2024, computer science-related occupations are projected to grow by almost 11 percent in Hawaii — faster than the 6 percent projected growth for all occupations over the same time. These are jobs like web development, computer systems analysis, systems software development and application software development.

In 2016, these were among the jobs that carried a median hourly wage of $35.87 in Hawaii, nearly double the median hourly wage of $19.24 for all jobs that year. At a time when costs in Hawaii continue to rise, it’s our duty to ensure our local graduates are competitive for these jobs.

Students with computer science skills, like Redwan and his classmates, can move into lucrative careers early on. Several high-schoolers from Leilehua and Waipahu are doing this already, gaining hands-on knowledge as work study interns with the National Security Agency.

At HawaiiKidsCAN, we believe strongly that every student deserves at least the opportunity to decide, through exposure and engagement, whether STEM is their passion. This begins with a mindful approach to making computer science education accessible across the islands, particularly among groups that are underrepresented in the STEM workforce: female and low-income students. Right now, they’re lagging behind.

Less than half the schools in our state offer computer science classes.

Of the 14 Hawaii high schools that offer AP Computer Science classes a rigorous way for teenagers to acquire early college credits and advanced understanding of the subject just four serve large numbers of low-income students. And while the state administered 290 AP Computer Science exams in 2017, only 32 percent of test takers were female. We can and should do better than that.

Real change also begins with our teachers. In order to teach computer science at Campbell High School, Mr. Delos Reyes had to visit the mainland on breaks to train with a nonprofit called Project Lead the Way, because computer science professional development isn’t yet widely available for teachers in Hawaii. Addressing this area of need is paramount to increasing access to high-quality computer science courses in our state at every grade level.

Coding Can Be Fun

It’s no surprise that Mr. Delos Reyes’ computer science classes are in high demand. Student sign-ups were around 37 students his first year, 90 in his second year and 120 students in his third year. Campbell High School can only meet that demand if another teacher is trained in the subject. It’s time to show up for our kids.

Here are a few ways to start: HawaiiKidsCAN believes the Board of Education should allow advanced computer science coursework to count toward math or science graduation requirements, and that Hawaii should provide funding to help schools train interested teachers in computer science education.

Many teachers may be intimidated by the prospect of computer science instruction, but examples such as Tech Lab in this November 2017 story by Civil Beat, or robotic Altino cars this this January 2018 story by Hawaii News Now, demonstrate that coding can be rigorous, enriching and fun.

We’re encouraged by the progress underway and the commitment from the Hawaii Department of Education and Superintendent Christina Kishimoto. The DOE has been working since late 2017 to promote this kind of professional development, to establish statewide standards for computer science education and to provide resources for teaching the subject, and Gov. David Ige officially joined the GovsForCS Partnership in December 2017, a group of bipartisan governors who are dedicated to expanding access to K-12 computer science education, signaling his support for these critical initiatives.

The University of Hawaii system has also worked to streamline STEM pathways across its campuses. Lastly, there are bills before the Hawaii Legislature this session that would provide critical funding for teacher professional development in computer science.

The future won’t wait for us, though, and it won’t wait for our kids, so progress needs to keep pace with the rapid growth of the STEM sector and the evolving world around us. Equipped with the facts, let’s earnestly examine the entire pipeline from kindergarten to career, and carve out new opportunities to empower our kids.

The students in Mr. Delos Reyes’ class are just scratching the surface. Imagine how many lives we can change if we respond to the demand of our young learners, and the demands of tomorrow, to open up a new world of learning.

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About the Author

  • David Miyashiro
    David Miyashiro is founding executive director of HawaiiKidsCAN, a locally funded and led education advocacy nonprofit committed to ensuring that Hawaii has an excellent and equitable education system that reflects the true voices of our communities and, in turn, has a transformational impact on our children and our state.