This week saw the commercial release of a device that has the potential to see the biggest change in the way our schools teach Computing and use technology in education in some 30 years.
I can remember being in my very first year at primary school and there in the corner sat a very angular BBC Micro. It didn’t do much but I can definitely recall some kind of heavily pixelated tomato-man carrying out our bidding. Type in “jump”, he would jump; “wave”, and his red arm would swing back and forth; that to me as a 3- or 4-year-old was incredible. But in at the same time, it was the norm, as that was the technology that was coming into play. It then was no different to my friend’s similarly aged child deftly handling his iPad today. The graphics have just gotten a little slicker in the intervening period but youth’s ability to adapt and embrace what is placed in front of them remains.
Back in the days of the Micros, Spectrums and Amigas that acceptance meant children getting their hands dirty, pulling up a console and seeing just how their shiny new toy can worked. It saw the birth of a generation of bedroom coders and an avenue to a set of skills that is sadly diminishing today. Though it’s easy enough to begin experimenting with programming on a PC, the majority of industry is now comprised of gated portable iOS devices, locked down home consoles, and pirate-wary multinationals meaning children’s digital entertainment is no longer quite so open or inviting to such homebrew. The leap between what is quickly achievable and what they are seeing on screen is a world apart.
The Raspberry Pi aims to change that. In development for nearly six-years it is target at being an extremely cheap and robust portable computer that will once again tempt pupils into the joys of syntax errors, semi colons and compilers. It wants to reinvigorate and reverse the decline in the nation’s computing skills.
With twice as much power as the latest iPhone, Blu-Ray quality playback and still being only the size of a credit card, it’s hardly trading size for power. But this isn’t about specs, it’s at the heart of trying to reinvigorate education, enabling pupils to take and explore ICT rather than be force fed lesson plans set down by an education system that is still principally based in an ethos that began before computers were a reality. Unsurprising if teachers fear little Johnny writing off an expensive PC due to a misplaced call to the kernel.
It’s going to take more than a cheap PC for the Raspberry Pi Foundation to transform their vision into a reality but with the Government already having announced a shake-up to the way the nation’s children are taught ICT – and Michael Gove already having suggesting devices such as the Raspberry Pi could play an important role – we may find ourselves living in quite revolutionary times.
Already French, music and physics are taught as standard in schools. With a slice of Pi, might we see C++ join those ranks?