After an elder passed away recently in their community, the students at Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School in Dzántik’i Héeni, the Tlingit name for Juneau, Alaska, got to work creating a special gift.

Using skills they’d learned in their computer science lessons, the students designed a traditional button blanket on a laser cutting machine. “They found a meaningful way to apply all of that skill and knowledge that they have learned and in such a way that it was authentic,” said Luke Fortier, the school librarian and math teacher.

Fortier’s school participates in a program operated by the American Indian Science and Engineering Society to expand access to computer science and science, technology engineering and math, or STEM, among Native American, Alaska Native and Pacific Islander students. The program trains educators at K-12 schools whose students include Native children on different ways they can introduce young people to programming, robotics and coding.

But computer science lessons like the ones at Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School are relatively rare. Despite calls from major employers and education leaders to expand K-12 computer science instruction in response to the workforce’s increasing reliance on digital technology, access to the subject remains low — particularly for Native American students.

Only 67 percent of Native American students attend a school that offers a computer science course, the lowest percentage of any demographic group, according to a new study from the nonprofit A recent report from the Kapor Foundation and the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, or AISES, takes a deep look at why Native students’ access to computer and technology courses in K-12 is so low, and examines the consequences.

Director of “seeding innovation” at the Kapor Foundation and report coauthor Frieda McAlear, who is Native Alaskan of the Inupiaq tribe, said the study “forefronts the context of the violence of centuries of colonization and its continuing impacts on Native people and tribal communities as the driver of disparities in Native representation in tech and computing.”

Schools serving higher proportions of Native students are more likely to be small institutions that lack space, funding and teachers trained in computer science, according to the report. In addition, many Native students attend schools that may lack the hardware, software and high-speed internet needed for these classes.

Even when the instruction is available, courses often lack cultural relevance that would allow Native students to authentically engage with the material, the report says.

Read the full article about Native American students and data science by Javeria Salman at The Hechinger Report.