Games guru David Braben has launched another stinging broadside on the state of IT teaching in UK schools and is so concerned he has invented a simple Linux-based computer to do something about it.
Announced in January as the Raspberry Pi, the device is basically a computer re-imagined as a USB stick, with an HDMI port at one end (for plugging into a TV) and a USB port (for a keyboard) at the other. It comes with a basic 128Mb of SDRAM, and runs OpenGL ES 2.0 and Ubuntu through another great British innovation, the 700MHz ARM11 chip.
As radical as the Raspberry Pi looks on paper, its larger ambition is to challenge the way young people are being taught to use computers within the UK education system.
Connected to a TV and a keyboard, with an expected price tag of £10-£15 (approx $25), the tiny computer can support a range of scripting and programming interfaces (including Python), precisely the sort of skills Braben thinks UK ICT teaching is not equipping youngsters with.
“In my day we had a subject called typing, and that to me is what ICT has replaced. I’m talking about a completely different set of skills that ICT has ousted from schools,” Braben told the BBC.
“In the early days, in the 80s, we had computer science coming into schools. They have been largely supplanted by things like ICT. The number of computer science applicants to universities dropped in the early 2000s by around 50 percent which I think is a shocking indictment.”
Braben – noted for his company Frontier developments and the non-profit Raspberry Pi Foundation - made much the same points when the device was first mooted and looks set to continue his complaints until someone listens. Failing that, perhaps the model of a simple computer designed to test the skills he is promoting will work on ICT departments from the inside, through the pupils themselves.
“The wealthier kids in a class will have access to a computer in the home, but a lot of kids won’t. This will fill that gap,” said Braben.
The next hurdle will be getting it made.
“It’ll be a while for it to be in every child’s hands but we hope something will be rolled out within 12 months.”