BBC is giving away 1 million mini computers so kids can learn to code

12 Mar 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

BBC Micro Bit will complement Raspberry Pi not compete with it.

The broadcaster announced on Thursday that it is giving away 1 million micro computers to next year’s cohort of 11- and 12-year-old schoolchildren in Year 7, as part of a new initiative called Make it Digital. The BBC’s new Micro Bit programmable device is designed to complement computers like the Raspberry Pi rather than compete with them, according to people involved with the project.

The BBC will launch a season of programmes and online activity, including a drama based on Grand Theft Auto and tie-ups with Doctor Who, EastEnders, and Radio 1. “Just as we did with the BBC Micro in the 1980s, we want to inspire the digital visionaries of the future. The new hardware project is part of the BBC’s wider “Make it Digital” initiative to inspire “a new generation to get creative with coding, programming and digital technology,” as you UK attempts to fill an anticipated ‘skills gap’ in the country’s growing digital economy. The broadcaster also announced it is partnering with 50 organisations, including Google, Microsoft, Samsung, Apps for Good and Code Club, and will host a range of educational events and activities. The move, which sees the BBC partner with 25 organisations to develop the Micro Bit, including chip-makers ARM and Nordic Semiconductor, Microsoft, and Samsung, is also interesting in that it seems determined to address issues that caused controversy when the original BBC Micro was released.

The 1980s personal computer was too expensive to truly democrotise computer programming, often seeing only a handful of devices purchased by each school. A 2014 employment-trends survey from Accenture and the Confederation of British Industry highlighted critical shortages around digital skills in Britain, and called on businesses and educators to be more flexible about how talent is developed and can enter the workforce.

Hall said he hoped the initiative would help solve the UK’s technology skills shortage, with predictions that the country would require 1.4 million “digital professionals” over the next five years. An SDK from Apple allows you to build an app for an iPhone, but you have no idea: all you’re doing is basically calling APIs within the phone. ‘I want a reading from the GPS’ and so on,” said Atkinson. “In an embedded environment, you literally have to make those calls. It will sport a 5×5 LED display that can be used to scroll letters and flash, among other features. “It’s going to be small enough and light enough that it will fasten to clothing.

However, the PR related to the device is keen to pitch the hardware as a ‘gateway drug’ to more sophisticated educational and hobby computing, such as Arduino and Raspberry Pi. And one of the key capabilities that will be in the final device compared to the prototype is Bluetooth LE,” said Atkinson. “The kids can do their main programming at school – they might have written a piece of code to scroll text and make the lights flash – but then you can imagine them being on the bus on the way home and reprogramming it from their mobile phone over Bluetooth to send messages from the back of the bus.” Isn’t a technology for children to flash messages at one another on the bus ripe for… misuse? “Potentially, but we’re not promoting that,” laughed Atkinson. “There will be a lot of social interaction around it.” Giving a million programmable devices away to 11-12 year-olds is one thing, but ensuring teachers are prepared to help them make the most of it quite another. That’s very interesting and we all need to know, but that’s not going to help us get a job.” What about children who aren’t in year seven this year, though? At some point, as yet unspecified, they’ll be able to get their hands on a Micro Bit too. “Every child who gets given one will be able to take it home and use it there.

Helping children collaborate on their coding appears to be high on the agenda, though. “The device is equivalent to an Internet of Things-type device. Many years ago I sat in on a private meeting between commercial broadcasters and others in the digital learning space, and the BBC was enemy number one. Arm’s manufacturing and distribution partners on the project include Barclays, Freescale, Microsoft, Nordic Semiconductor, Samsung, element14, ScienceScope and Technology Will Save Us. BBC Learning’s Gareth Stockdale is quoted by BBC News as saying: “The BBC’s role is to bring focus to the issue, and then we will withdraw from the market.”

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