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BETA | TECHNOLOGY // RASPBERRY PI


The Picademy (above) is a free two-day course in Cambridge that offers a chance for teachers to get to grips with coding on the Raspberry Pi


years of neglect and teaching children to work with software, rather than create it. “It’s incredibly important [to have computer science on the curriculum],” says Upton. “When we first started doing this we felt like a voice in the wilderness. We were the only people talking about this. And that was around 2006.


“The wonderful thing over the last few years is that there’s even been this massive upsurge in organisations like Computing at School, which is supported by the British Computing Society. You’ve also got all these after school clubs and schemes like Coder Dojo and CodeClub.”


TEACHING TEACHERS


Despite his optimism about computer science finally entering the UK curriculum as the fourth science, Upton says he’s concerned about whether the country and its teaching workforce is ready for the change. “It’s an enormously challenging transition,” he says. “I think the scale of the funding required to do this teacher training properly is a hundred million pounds, or high tens of millions.” Though the government has its own scheme to teach a select number of teachers, who will then go on to educate their colleagues, the Raspberry Pi Foundation is also playing its own part in preparing them for the coming changes via the Picademy. The free, two-day course works by bringing in 25 primary and secondary school teachers to the Raspberry Pi offices in Cambridge, showing them how to use the Pi in the classroom and assist with teaching the new curriculum. Though currently taking place at its offices, the organisation aims widen the net and begin hosting sessions off-site by the end of the year.


34 | AUGUST 2014


And the early signs are that the Picademy is working, and the Pi is slowly making its way into real classrooms across the country. “At the moment we’re trying to work out what the best way is to integrate it with the existing computing facilities that schools have, because schools already have computers,” admits Upton.


“There’s an argument that what you should do is install educational software like Scratch on the computers at school. Scratch also runs well on the Pi, and the child can have the Pi at home, so they can use it as a way of getting an extension of the experience they’re having at school at home.”


The scale of funding required to do this


teacher training properly is £100m, or high tens of millions.


Eben Upton, Raspberry Pi


Industry veteran and UK creative industries champion Ian Livingstone, who co-wrote the Livingstone-Hope report, is a keen supporter of computer science on the curriculum and of the Raspberry Pi. He has claimed on a number of occasions that for £15m, the government could buy every child in the country a Pi. Despite the costs of such a venture, he believes the net outcome would be “way beyond the cost of a Raspberry Pi”. “Computer science is the new Latin,” said Livingstone at last month’s Develop Conference in Brighton.


“No matter where you come from, or how disadvantaged, any child could learn to code


and become the next Mark Zuckerberg. It is the great equaliser and a great opportunity.”


PIS FOR ALL


Upton says though the Pi isn’t the only way for children to learn to code, he does see value in ubiquity, and thinks such a scheme could work if government was willing to make the investment.


“A really good example of this is France back in the 1980s,” he explains. “They had this thing called Minitel, which they replaced their telephone books with, and they gave it to everyone. Because everyone had it, you could assume everyone had it, and this whole ecosystem grew up around it.


“So I think there is value to it, and I think in general what there’s value to though is just making sure that everyone has a programmable computer, and the Pi isn’t the only way of doing this. You can do this with recycled PCs, you can do it with maybe other little computers and cheap laptops. “We live in this age of appliance computing. A world in which the majority of computing devices are closed platforms, such as games consoles and set-top boxes. There’s value I think in making sure that every household owns at least one computer which is not an appliance, and we are surprisingly far away from that world at the moment.” Having already made an early impact on the UK programming and education scenes, the Raspberry Pi surpassing the original goals set for it with each passing day.


And with further software enhancements on the way, the Picademy scheme and the introduction of computer science to the primary and secondary school curriculum, perhaps the Pi could play a central role in the future of education in the country. 


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