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.