Breaking Barriers: Overcoming Resistance to AI in Education Initiatives

Blog post Ashley Shaw, SREB Communications Specialist

Overcoming Barriers to AI in Education  with Asa Hutchinson

This is the third post in a five-part series. You can find past posts and see what is upcoming here:

  1. Meeting Overview, Notes from SREB President Stephen Pruitt
  2. Bruce Brossard, CEO of Humana
  3. Asa Hutchinson, former governor of Arkansas
  4. Pat Yongpradit, CAO of
  5. Nancy Ruzycki, Director of Undergraduate Laboratories at the University of Florida

When Asa Hutchinson was governor of Arkansas from 2015-2023, he made a point of prioritizing computer science education, and as a result, his state became one of the leaders in the field. In his speech at the first meeting of SREB’s Commission on Artificial Intelligence in Education, he drew parallels to how he overcame this resistance to computer science education in Arkansas and how states can do similar things with AI usage today.

Identifying Resistance

“When I started the initiative in Arkansas, it was 2014-2015,” Hutchinson recalled. “It was a learning curve in education.”

The same can be said of how teachers see AI in classes today. There are many reasons people are reluctant to embrace this technology, such as fear of job displacement, data privacy concerns or a perceived complexity of AI technologies.

While these are all valid concerns, they should not be barriers to access. It’s important to help people embrace changes while still acknowledging and addressing their fears. This requires strong leadership.

Creating Strong Leadership and Vision

How do you start a new initiative, especially one that so many people may be resistant to bringing into their schools?

According to Hutchinson, “If you’re going to drive a new initiative that has resistance, you better be ready to lead.”

“If you’re going to drive a new initiative that has resistance, you better be ready to lead.”

Good leadership demands good communication skills. He demonstrated this by recalling a time that he noticed a school district had no students signed up for any computer science class. So, he took it on himself to call the superintendent and address this head-on.

“Superintendent, this is the governor,” he said to the man who was not expecting to be addressed by the governor himself. “I see zero students taking computer science in your district. Surely that’s wrong.”

This direct approach worked. The next year, the same school district had over 150 students taking computer science.

He also spent time attending high school assemblies; Hutchinson went to over 80 high schools talking with students and faculty about the importance of computer science. While he could mandate schools to offer these classes, schools would not mandate the classes to students. So, he made a point to sell the program to them.

Creating Legislative and Policy Support Where Needed

When it comes to creating the right approach to using AI in education, legislators and policymakers will be the heart of many of the changes. For computer science initiatives in Arkansas, Hutchinson deemed the legislature the backbone of the initiative.

Legislators, governors and other elected officials at both the state and federal levels can make a huge difference in these plans:

  • They can ensure programs have the funding they need to thrive.
  • They can get teachers the retraining they may need to teach in new environments.
  • They can help the U.S. stay competitive in this arena against the rest of the world.
  • They can work to protect data and privacy concerns.

Letting Innovation Thrive

However, Hutchinson was also quick to point out that while state and federal officials might be the leaders in certain parts of the AI in education debate, he hopes that they will also stay out of it at times too.

Hutchinson believes “we should always look for a technological response to a technological problem.” When the industry is allowed to build and research on its own without too much interference, innovation can thrive.  

The Next Steps

With these considerations in mind, Hutchinson mentioned some steps that he thinks the commission should take into consideration as they work.

Creating Success Stories

Hutchinson emphasized the importance of creating and sharing success stories. At the start of the initiative in 2015, 1,100 students were enrolled in computer science and only six teachers were certified to teach computer science across the whole state.

2015: 1,100 students were enrolled in computer science, 6 teachers were certified to teach computer science across the whole state.

When he left office in 2023, 25,000 students were enrolled and 775 teachers are now certified to teach computer science in Arkansas.

2023: 25,000 students were enrolled in computer science, 775 teachers were certified to teach computer science.

It might take a state or a district to start the AI in education initiative, but one day, we will hopefully see similar results.

Encouraging Professional Development

Another thing that Hutchinson hoped to see in the future was more professional development opportunities.

Speaking once more of Arkansas’s computer science program, he said that “you could have mandated it out of the gate, but without teachers it would have failed.” That is why his state worked so hard to turn those six certified teachers into 775.

“You could have mandated it out of the gate, but without teachers it would have failed.”

This requires not only professional development and retraining opportunities, though. It also takes budgetary considerations and training incentives.  

Final Thoughts

Hutchinson took the legislative view on the topic. Stay tuned for our next post, where we will look at ideas from’s chief academic officer, Pat Yongpradit.