BBC to give away 1 million ‘Micro Bit’ PCs to help kids learn code

The BBC's Micro Bit will introduce students to coding, after which they may graduate to devices such as the Raspberry Pi.

BBC
The Micro Bit computer, a prototype of which is shown here, will have a 5x5 LED display, a USB port, and a small processor.

Britain’s public school curriculum introduced coding classes last year, after advocates pointed out that learning to code can help kids think logically and prepare them for careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

Middle-schoolers learn two programming languages, and also take general tech classes on topics such as staying safe online. Now, those coding classes will be a bit more hands-on, because one million students starting middle school in the fall will be given a “Micro Bit” computer that’s designed to help them learn the basics of creating programs.

The Micro Bit is similar to the popular Raspberry Pi mini-computer: it has a small processor, a graphics processing unit, a few megabytes of RAM – and not much else. The Micro Bit has a single USB port, so it can be connected to another device, and a 5x5 LED display that scrolls text or signals the computer’s status. It’s a stripped-down gadget designed to make it easy for kids to start writing their own code, at which point they may move on to the Raspberry Pi, Arduino, or another more complex device.

The BBC partnered with more than 25 technology companies, including Microsoft, Samsung, and chipmaker ARM, to create the Micro Bit. It even got advice from the Raspberry Pi Foundation on how to make the machine attractive to would-be coders. The Micro Bit doesn’t run a full operating system, but it allows students to write code in a text editor or graphical interface, compile it, and then run it on the device. It’s designed to be small and light enough that it can be fastened to students’ clothing as a makeshift wearable device.

The BBC is giving the computers away as part of its “Make It Digital” campaign, which aims to get students interested in programming, design, and digital technology. The broadcaster predicts that there will be a large market for these skills in the coming decades.

This isn’t the BBC’s first foray into personal computing. In 1980, the corporation commissioned the BBC Micro, a small (for the time) home computer that was supposed to help Brits learn technology literacy skills. About 80 percent of British schools had a Micro and the machine was moderately popular for home use, but it was too expensive to have a widespread educational impact.

This time around, the BBC has made a microcomputer that’s small, light, cheap to produce, and compatible with coding languages Python, C++, and Touch Develop. It’s worth noting that there will only be one round of production for the Micro Bit. Once all 1 million devices have been distributed to middle-schoolers, the BBC will withdraw from the market. What about younger kids who want to learn to code? Perhaps a private company will create a new device for them.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.