Take a quick look online and the innovation taking place in so many areas of technology today is astounding. A lot of this innovation is courtesy of incredibly talented young people and in some case even children, such as 14-year-old Robert Nay who knocked Angry Birds off the App Store top spot with his game Bubble Ball. Yet kids like Robert aren’t learning their skills in school. If they were, just think where we might be.
Tech Education Today
The education of real computer science skills, that lead to independent creation and innovation, is utterly lacking. Over the past decade, a time that has seen amazing advances in technology and the scope of things that are possible online, education has turned backwards to focus on subjects such as writing documents in word processors, creating presentations, and basic computer use skills. However, a lot of children can already do these things; they learn them naturally through growing up with computers as well as being taught by tech-savvy parents and older siblings. So why are schools stuck teaching them?
Technology education should be focused on proper computer science skills such as basic programming, how computers work and learning to understand the hardware and software behind them. Learning these things would empower children to be able to go on and really make a difference. By teaching these skills we would be instilling children with a passion to create and innovate, and the knowledge necessary to do so.
Someone who recognises this, and has done something amazing to bring about this change, is David Braben, founder of UK development studio Frontier Developments. His solution has been to create an incredibly low-cost PC, to be given to children for free, in order to allow every child access to really understanding how computers work. David’s aim is to stimulate the teaching of basic computer science in schools, and to excite and produce passion in the same children that are currently left uninspired and ignorant about the way computers work by today’s ICT classes.
The $25 PC
The PC consists of a USB stick, with an HDMI port on one end and a USB port on the other. This allows the PC to be connected to any monitor with an HDMI socket, and then to a keyboard. Just like that, you have a fully-functioning machine running one of four versions of Linux, including Ubuntu, allowing it to handle web browsing and run office applications.
The hardware packed neatly into the tiny casing is impressive, punching way above the weight you might expect from something that can fit in your pocket or on a key chain. The 700MHz ARM11 processor is coupled with 128MB of RAM and runs OpenGL ES 2.0, which allows for decent graphics performance with 1080p output confirmed. In terms of storage, the PC uses SD cards, currently used by all the leading digital camera companies.
David’s venture is called Raspberry Pi, and is part of the Raspberry Pi Foundation. This UK registered charity has been set up to promote the study of computer science and related topics, especially at school level, and to put the fun back into learning computing.
The idea behind producing and distributing this ultra-low-cost computer is to be used in teaching computer programming to children. The Raspberry Pi Foundation hope that teachers, developers and the government (three groups of people who generally do not collaborate nearly as much as they should) will come together in order to put the PC into the hands of children who might not otherwise have such ready access to a computer.
Its accessibility and low cost are also hoped to encourage children to become interested and excited about what is inside this, and every, computer. They will be able to break it apart, inspect it, mess about with it, and tinker under the bonnet.
Teaching Innovation through Innovation
The hope is also that educators will build upon this cheap, accessible device to come up with new, exciting ways to teach the real skills necessary to use computers to their full potential. The Raspberry Pi is perfect for school and college courses to be built upon, providing the means to inspire children to learn a bit of programming and to understand their computers better.
With innovative ventures like Raspberry Pi, we can encourage and enable schools to shift the way in which they teach computing. Hopefully this change will move towards teaching children deeper knowledge of the computers we use, and providing them with skills of real value. Also, the excitement that such projects will inspire could lay the foundation for the next generation of passionate and creative programmers.
Do you think the $25 PC has the potential to change computing education in our schools? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments below!