Do you remember the BBC Micro? Or maybe the ZX Spectrum or Commodore 64? Remember all that fun you had ‘writing’ those programmes that could animate a square from one side of the screen to the other, maybe even changing through colours with fascinating names like ‘magenta’ and ‘cyan’? Fun wasn’t it?
Yet, the modern student, child even young adult, has almost certainly missed out on that. Through a combinations of technology, laziness and ignorance, fewer and fewer people are taking their computers to pieces and putting them back together again, and even fewer are learning the basics of computer programming.
That was a worrying trend spotted by a small group of Cambridge academics which lead to the establishment of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, an innovative charitable organisation established to teach youngsters and adults how to program computers.
Eben Upton, Executive Director of Raspberry Pi Foundation, explains: “Despite the fact more people now use PCs, Macs, tablets, smartphones and games consoles, youngsters are no longer exposed to programmable home computers as I and my colleagues were back in the 1980s. This has meant, steadily, the quantity and experience level of students joining universities to read computer science has significantly dropped.
The overall goal of the Foundation is to improve the quality and quantity of computer science graduates and engineers in the UK. Part of this is being met by a new fully functioning, but skeleton computer at a price point of just £22 launched last week amidst massive media coverage. The aim is that young people and hobbyists are provided with a very affordable, fully-functional computer, featuring an ARM processor and a GPU – known as a Raspberry Pi – to program and pick up the skills too many have been missing out on.
Since its establishment in May 2011 the popularity of the charity has grown phenomenally. As Upton points out: “With the support of invaluable partners, students and hobbyists now have a device to practice on before they enter further education. As this popularity continues to grow along with our traffic, this incredibly generous managed hosting package will ensure we do not falter along the way.”
Obviously, I think it is a fantastic concept and one I hope will be a massive success, helping the whole technology industry ensure it gets better qualified people for years to come. However, it is also a charity and needs support for its cause, requiring more sales of the little computers and more widespread understanding of them and what they are all about. So don’t forget to place your own order for a Raspberry Pi – they make great presents too, whatever the age.