According to a 2016 study conducted by Aloha United Way, 48% of working families in Hawaii can’t afford to live to live in the islands. This is largely due to the high costs of living and low wages—Hawaii is consistently ranked as the most expensive state to live in, while 62% of jobs in Hawaii pay less than $20 per hour. A recent HUB report listed $93,000 for a family of four as low income in Hawaii.
As we come into the 21st century, however, Hawaii has the opportunity to write its trajectory. Between 2014-2024, computer science-related jobs are expected to grow by almost 11% in Hawaii—6% faster than the forecast for general job growth. And as of 2016, these types of jobs had a median hourly wage of almost $36—just about double the median wage for all jobs.
Whether our children are able to capitalize on this growth, however, will depend largely on their pursuit of higher education—particularly in computer and STEAM-related fields. As of 2017, there were roughly 1,400 unfilled computing positions but just 134 computer science graduates from the University of Hawaii.
Beyond computer science, in order to thrive in the coming decades, Hawaii needs to create other industries and companies that create higher-value products and services, and in turn, higher wages. This innovation-based economy will require us to teach our keiki to be creative problem solvers, able to spot opportunities others cannot yet see, overcome never-ending obstacles, and connect it all together across multiple disciplines to create game-changing solutions. We believe that this process starts in our classrooms. By exposing every student to coding in the classroom, we can create a pathway to developing creative critical thinkers with the potential to create their own innovative companies and careers and transform Hawaii’s economy.
Oceanit’s Solution: Altino
Altino is a small, programmable car developed by SaeOn, one of Oceanit’s partners in South Korea. Using Altino, Oceanit aims to train 5000 primary and secondary school teachers—across all subject areas from English to PE—how to code over the next 5 years. Teachers can then, in turn, instruct students to use Altino or incorporate other coding-derived principles into their curricula.
The Altino coding car allows non-technical teachers to learn the basics of coding in as little as two days. It can do a wide variety of different actions, including a fully autonomous mode using its six infrared sensors, and because there are no parts or pieces to reconfigure (in contrast with robots), 100% of the time is spent on problem solving and coding. The car has multiple sensors and capabilities to keep students engaged from K-12. When students go from elementary to middle and high school, they stay on the same Altino platform—no upgrades or additional equipment required. And as a result, the focus is on tougher coding challenges, learning new programming languages like Python, and doing thousands of Arduino open-source hardware projects.
Oceanit’s Altino training program is one of the only a few computer science training programs to be Department of Education-approved for three professional development credits for teachers. To earn this accreditation, training must meet the same academic demands as a university course.
Training Teachers Is Key to Consistent Exposure
Why train teachers—non-technical ones in particular? We designed our Altino training system to bring systemic change to education through a two-fold approach: first by teaching coding to more teachers, ensuring that students receive coding instruction in the classroom rather than as an elective or extra-curricular activity; and second, by helping teachers redesign existing subject areas like language arts and history to teach creative problem solving skills and increase the likelihood that students at any school can receive coding instruction during at least one class period every day. This addresses several of the largest hurdles that computer science education in Hawaii currently faces, namely a lack of computer science (CS) teachers and inaccessibility to most students.
Studies show that repeated exposure is key to getting students not just interested in but actually studying computer science in post-secondary education. And while exposure is the most critical element, experts argue that timing is also important—a younger student who still has more flexible thought processes will find it easier to think of coding as a tool rather than an obstacle and will normalize the process of breaking down larger problems into manageable, solvable pieces.
Our goal is to expose 100% of students in K-12 to coding, and the only way to scale up and achieve this cost-effectively is to train teachers. Given that elementary teachers reach about 25 students per year and middle and high school teachers reach around 100, on average, a single teacher reaches about 50 students per year. By training 5000 teachers, we have the potential to reach 250,000 students—when Hawaii’s K-12 population is a little more than 180,000.
In 2018, Governor Ige signed two bills into law in support of computer science education. Acts 51 and 168 require Hawaii’s Department of Education to develop and implement a statewide computer science curricula plan for public school students in K-12 and ensure that each public high school offers at least one computer science course each school year by the 2021-2022 school year.
While schools and teachers are enthusiastic about being able to offer more students the opportunity to learn this increasingly vital skill, because of the short timeline, there is also the concern of whether it can be done effectively from the start. Our Altino teacher training program is a direct answer to this challenge. It is accredited, proven, and trains current teachers—meaning schools don’t have to hire staff for just one or two classes or compromise funding for other programs.
Successes to Date
- Increasing Reach Every Year: Since 2017, Oceanit has conducted several successful workshops for teachers on every island, training a total of 555 educators from 249 schools, who have the potential to reach up to 27,750 students.
- Complex-Based Curriculum Development: One of the hallmarks of our training system is that it brings together teachers from grades K-12, who are working in the same complex. This creates the opportunity for educators to develop a cohesive, comprehensive curriculum that can grow with students as they progress through school. One-third of our training program is dedicated to curriculum development, and teachers who have gone through our program have designed innovative curricula that blend coding with subject areas like history, music, automotive, construction, and health.
- Education-Focused Partnerships Extend Our Reach: Our partners include Kamehameha Schools, the Public Schools of Hawaii Foundation, the Department of Education, the Department of Labor & Industrial Relations, the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation, Toyota Hawaii, and the Hawaii Community Foundation (Omidyar Fund).
- Taking Altino Beyond Schools: Aside from working with teachers, Altino has also been used in a program we call “Code 4 a Future,” implemented at Halawa Correctional Facility. The inaugural class in May 2017 consisted of a mix of prison education staff and inmates that met every Friday afternoon over the course of 12 weeks. As of October 2018, 80 inmates have gone through either a basic or intermediate coding course with an additional 100 expected to receive training by the end of 2019.
Visions for the Future
Looking forward, Oceanit believes that the Altino training program can alter the future of Hawaii by creating generations of creative problem solvers. Over the next five years, we hope to be able to expose every student in Hawaii to creative problem-solving via computer programming, becoming the first state in the country to have statewide exposure. This, in turn, may open new career pathways for our children and our state. While computer programming is still largely considered a white-collar profession, there is a growing demand for blue-collar coders capable of maintaining code for a corporate website or government system, for example. This opens lucrative pathways for those who might not want or be able to pursue a four-year degree, further broadening the job prospects for our soon to be coding-capable youth.