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Can this £22 computer inspire today’s tech-savvy kids?

The Raspberry Pi, a £22 computer designed to encourage children to learn programming in schools has sold like hot pies – initial stocks have officially sold out. But can it really inspire today’s kids?

Currently the Raspberry Pi, which is the size of a credit card, is sold uncased.

The specifications are understandably low. The device has an ARM 700MHz processor, and either 128Mb or 256Mb of Ram. There’s no hard disk or solid state drive. Instead it boots (starts-up) from an SD memory card.

It has connectors to hook it up to a computer monitor and keyboard, uses a mobile phone charger for power and runs a version of the Linux operating system.

Children will have access to an educational package called scratch, which will let them practise their programming skills.

Programming a future for Britain’s kids

The aim of the Raspberry Pi is to teach children rudimentary computer programming skills which will equip them, and the UK, for a digital future.

The concept takes me back to my childhood when my stepbrother and I would huddle round the computer (an old BBC machine) and copy in lines of code from a book. I remember the end results being a rocket that took off and flew away.

At the time I was amazed that what seemed a nonsensical string of letters could make something move onscreen. But it didn’t inspire me to become a computer programmer. That said, I doubt whether anything could have.

At school my passion was for English and history. Mathematics was, and still remains, a dark art. I simply couldn’t work out what all those formulas were supposed to do and why they mattered. I suspect I’d have felt the same way about a class in programming.

Will the Raspberry Pi inspire programming skills?

It remains to be seen whether the Raspberry Pi can fire children’s imagination. And, personally, I think it has its work cut out.

We live in an age of PlayStations, Xbox’s and Wii’s, which offer instant gratification in the form of media rich games with compelling story lines and cutting edge graphics. When I was copying out those lines of code it was because it was all the computer would do.

So with high-powered PCs, games consoles and tablets, do children have the patience for the ‘Pi’? When I first wrote about the Raspberry Pi here on Which? Conversation I was sceptical, but now I’ll help myself to a small slice of the hype that currently surrounds it.

In every school there are children who like to take things apart and put them back together again to see how things work. I expect many will want to ‘take apart’ the programs that run their iPads and video games. These are the programmers of the future and any encouragement we can give them is obviously welcome.

Comments
Profile photo of wavechange
Member

I don’t know what to make of this, but it is good that no-one seems to be trying to make a lot of money out of selling this device. It’s not a disaster if it gets broken.

It remains to be seen whether it will help young (or old) learn programming skills, but perhaps there are some practical skills that could be developed. For a start, it needs a case. Undoubtedly someone will sell fancy cases that cost more than the computer, but it does not have to be that way.

When I was a schoolkid, building radios etc involved learning to solder, making boxes and developing other practical skills, and learning about electronics. That seems so much more worthwhile than playing with a games console.

Member
Gerard Phelan says:
5 March 2012

This appears to be a clever strategy to emphasise the difference. So many products today place form/design above function. The Raspberry Pi is about delivering FUNCTION, but had the development team dressed it in a simple box, then this Conversation might have been about comparing a dull cheap case with the sleek iCases etc. from others. The key test of whether that FUNCTION can be delivered will occur in the next few months in the hands of teachers and educators who will care nothing for cases, as they experiment with the first shipments. Maybe a benevolent industrial designer will donate to the charity an inspirational case design that complements the educational benefit that led the Raspberry Pi developers to donate their hardware expertise. At least, when the case arrives, even if it looks like the side of a bus, we will no longer notice, if we see our children being inspired by new opportunities for learning.

Profile photo of lombear
Member

I love the idea of teaching my son programming much as I was taught when younger – this offersd a good cheap entry point but at the moment the support is a bit sparse – the most interesting project (that will work on the pi ) is kidsruby – http://kidsruby.com/about – looks like they are jsut starting to build up the tutorials and I can imagine if you have no background much more support would be needed before getting this up and running.

Profile photo of colin c
Member

I’m not really sure about this … as one who loved and misses his BBC Micro I can see where they are going. But, although the R-Pi itself is only £20 odd, you still need a mouse, keyboard, power supply, monitor and cable (old VGA monitors aren’t supported apparently), plus a powered USB hub if you want to connect any other peripherals to it, so it isn’t as cheap as it would first appear.
Also the programming environments they are proposing to use, such as Kidsruby, Scratch, even BBC Basic, are available on PC and Mac platforms already.
As one pundit commented, it would be better to go and buy a three year old laptop secondhand and stick Linux on it, and it probably wouldn’t cost any more and be a more useful computer as well.
That said, I may still go and buy one just for fun …

Profile photo of Clint Kirk
Member

I agree, Colin. Teaching young people to program is certainly a commendable idea, but I don’t understand the need for a piece of under-powered hardware to do that on, when they can just run the same programming environment on the dual-core laptops that most schoolchildren already possess (for doing their homework.)

Member
Sanjay Ahlawat says:
18 July 2013

I have already broken away from Windows and am happily using Ubuntu, a Linux based Open Source free software. I feel it is better than Windows.

As Raspberri Pi can use LibreOffice, another Opensource free software I will be using it as my main business and home Hardware.

I will no longer have to rely on Windows or a Mac.