Wednesday, 9 October 2013

BBC to revisit the 1980's with new computing initiative

The BBC micro and its associated courses along with the Sinclair Z80 are often credited with helping to start the UK computer games industry. An industry where we can legitimately claim to lead the world. For proof look no further than Edinburgh's Rockstar Games and the recent launch of GTA5.

On hearing the news that the BBC wants to get the country coding (again) I sought out evidence of the impact of the original BBC micro. I discovered this NESTA funded report from 2012 by Tilly Blyth. It makes interesting reading. This graph really stood out to me.

It shows that getting children interested in coding at an early age can impact their future careers and of the industries that it fostered. The report stresses how important it was to take computing out of just the classroom but into the home. The role of informal learning was just as vital to the success as the more formal school and broadcast courses.
"The lesson from the 1980s is that the availability of hardware and the use of television to stimulate demand for computer literacy was not in itself enough. The project relied on the creation of a large amount of training, informal learning and curricular material; the broadcasts were part of a complete instructional package further widened by the growth of home computing magazines. Informal, rather than formal, learning seems to have been particularly influential on those who subsequently founded companies."

The Raspberry Pi has already put affordably home computing environments into the hands of many and its success indicates the interest and demand, 1 million sold and counting. Lets hope the BBC's plans will stimulate and add to this.

One issue maybe the need to train the trainers. Few of today's generation of school teachers were nurtured in the home computer era of the 1980's, in order for them to help and inspire their pupils they will need to get their hands into the code as well.

The words of John Radcliffe when he started the BBC micro project are still very apt:
“The effective exploitation of microprocessor technology in Britain will ultimately depend on the creativity and imagination that is brought to bear on the problems and possibilities of computer applications, and hence the capacity of the subject to attract the best minds and the liveliest talents. Our failures over the past years to compete in world markets for industrial  goods have probably been at least partly due to the shortage of  good scientists and engineers, through a failure to attract more young people to science based subjects.”

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