The BBC has announced a new initiative to inspire school children to be interested in programming and digital technology. Later this year it is to give a Micro Bit device to every Year 7 pupil, age around 11 years, in the UK.
The BBC's Make It Digital campaign kicked off last year with its Doctor Who game aimed at introducing programming concepts to children aged 6 to 12. This software-based approach at getting kids interested in code is now to be followed up with a hardware-based one. The BBC has revealed the prototype of a small microcomputer that is being developed with input from several partners, including chip-designer Arm, Microsoft and Samsung, that will be distributed to schools across the UK from autumn 2015.
The device, nicknamed the Micro Bit due to its small size, will have an LED display that children can program in a number of ways and will have a Bluetooth link enabling it to be hooked up to other devices such as a Raspberry Pi. According to the BBC when it launches in September it will be compatible with Touch Develop, Python and C++.
Only 1 million Micro Bits will be manufactured. The reason for this being a one-off distribution, according to BBC Learning's Gareth Stockdale, who is developing the device, is that:
"The BBC's role is to bring focus to the issue, and then we will withdraw from the market."
Another plank of the Make It Digital campaign, due to launch across the UK in summer 2015 is a 9-week traineeship to help up to 5,000 young unemployed people boost their digital skills and help them get a foot on the jobs ladder.
The training program will include content from the BBC Academy to teach basic digital skills, such as creating simple websites and short videos for the web. The announcement says:
The Traineeship is aimed at all sectors of digital economy as these skills are universal, but for those who show particular aptitude for skills suited to the creative industries there will be a clear pathway to apply for opportunities, including some at the BBC.
It also says that BBC Radio 1 will play a major role in the Traineeship, hosting a week-long creative exercise in week 5 of the Traineeship, testing trainees' new skills in using social media to engage with audiences and that
each local area will offer top trainees who excel at the challenge a fast-tracked final-stage interview for the Radio 1 Apprenticeship.
This week's Make It Digital announcement also includes its media-related plans to:
put digital creativity in the spotlight like never before, and help build the nation's digital skills.
It refers to a season of television programs and online activity involving shows including East Enders, The One Show and BBC Weather, including a new BBC Two drama based on Grand Theft Auto and a documentary on Bletchley Park
Tony Hall, BBC Director-General, said:
“This is exactly what the BBC is all about - bringing the industry together on an unprecedented scale and making a difference to millions. Just as we did with the BBC Micro in the 1980s, we want to inspire the digital visionaries of the future. Only the BBC can bring partners together to attempt something this ambitious, this important to Britain’s future on the world stage."
It all sounds very commendable and encouraging, but there are some questions that need answering.
Why is it that every initiative to teach programming seems to involve launching yet another new piece of hardware? Don't we have enough Pis, Androids and PCs to do the job?
Finally why is the British Broadcasting Company getting involved - it is "Broadcasting" in its name and purpose, not "programming".
There may well be good answers to both questions but they are not obvious.
The Micro Bit
BBC launches flagship UK-wide initiative to inspire a new generation with digital technology
Teach Code In School - Before It's Too Late!
Computing Teachers Concerned That Pupils Know More Than Them - Updated
Computer Science In English Baccalaureate
Doctor Who Teaches Programming
UK Micros of the 1980s
Four Generations - Video of BBC Micro
Software From The 80s Running In Your Browser
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