It’s no secret that much of today’s world is built around computers. There are tons of jobs that require extensive knowledge of them, meaning there is job security in being current and proficient in computer programming. Because of this, the BBC has taken a bold and innovative step to promote computer education for British youth. They are sending minicomputers to each student in the UK enrolled in years 7 and 8. Their goal is to help students become familiar and excited about learning computer programming, even if only at a beginner’s level. One million BBC Micro Bits will be sent out to students in the UK, absolutely free. This could represent a huge change in how the next generation will be able to use and understand computer programming.
The BBC Micro Bit is a small, programmable micro computer similar to the Raspberry Pi or Arduino. It has inputs, outputs, a processor, 25 LED lights, and two programmable buttons. Students will be given these Micro Bits to use in the classroom alongside beginner-friendly web portals and smartphone apps. Teachers will be trained in how to teach the skills needed to make basic programs and apps, or even basic robotic mechanisms. There is almost no limit to the coding capabilities of the BBC Micro Bit, so dedicated students may learn enough to make much more advanced programs with their shiny new mini computers.
This program was funded by the BBC’s Make it Digital campaign, an initiative to create a generation with widespread proficiency in computer programming. This mass distribution and education could produce an army of computer geniuses hitting the job market in a few years. Whereas now people have to go out of their way to find someone with advanced computer skills, this next generation may usher in a new age where computer programming and coding are basic skills that everyone knows to some extent, like math or history. But instead of long division and historical dates, kids will know how to build apps and games from the ground up.
Creating a generation of tech-savvy students may go against certain long-held beliefs about children and technology. It has long been believed that kids shouldn’t be allowed to spend all day indoors playing video games, staring at a computer screen, or using a smartphone. However, it is becoming more and more apparent that there is a lot of value in learning about technology. My parents urged me to go out and play, teaching me that the meaning of hard work was shoveling dirt and chopping wood. Those values still ring true, but now it may also be wise for parents to add an hour of mandatory technology use a day, something previous generations would scoff at. This is something the BBC has clearly caught onto.
When I was a kid, it was unusual to have a cell phone before starting high school, but now smartphones are basically considered a human right. If you told 12-year-old me that in just over a decade, almost every kid my age would have a small, high-speed phone/computer/camera on them all times, I would freak. If you told me that a high-schooler made an app that starts your car with your phone, or built a projector touch screen, it would make the news. In five or ten years, it may be commonplace for youngsters to be building revolutionary apps and programs. The idea of an entire nation of 12-year-olds knowing how to write computer code sounds downright futuristic to me.
The BBC is setting a huge precedent in “helping this generation to be the coders, programmers and digital pioneers of the future,” says Tony Hall, BBC Director-General. It may not seem like much now, but in a decade or less, this wave of coders could be doing big things on a massive scale. Perhaps other parts of the world should recognize the value of this campaign and start moving in the same direction.