Devouring Raspberry Pi

25 March 2014

Interview with

Eben Upton, Carrie Anne Philbin, Raspberry Pi

2014 has been declared to be the Year of Code, with one campaign aiming to Raspberry Pi alpha boardencourage people across the country to get coding for the first time.

This September even, computer programming will be introduced to the school timetable for every child between 5 and 16, making the UK the first major economy in the world to implement this on a national level.  

So why is coding, and getting kids into computer science so important? Chris Smith was joined by Eben Upton and Carrie Anne Philbin from the Raspberry Pi Foundation...

Chris - So, tell us first of all Eben, what is a Raspberry Pi? You better start off and explain.

Eben - A Raspberry Pi is a credit card-sized $25 computer that a group of us here in Cambridge created to try and teach kids to code, to try and give kids that experience we used to have in the 1980s.

Chris - I can fondly remember, coming up to Cambridge, it would've been 1984 and going to the Cambridge computer store to buy my BBC model B microcomputer which then taught me the rudiments of computer programming. I was bereft when there was nothing really to replace it in the next decade because I just felt there was nothing there to engage kids the way that that did. And I suppose - was that sort of part of your motivation?

Eben - Absolutely. So, I'm a little younger than you. I got my BBC micro when I was a kid in 1988 and it was a very second-hand, very battered piece of hardware then. But the day I got my BBC micro, my Lego went in a drawer and never came out again because it was just the most transformative experience for me. I'd been a Lego kid and then I was a BBC micro kid from then on.

Chris - Carrie Anne, you're originally a school teacher. You're now obviously working with these guys. So, they obviously regard that your school experience as fundamental to trying to get Raspberry Pi and the coding regime into the classroom.  What's the current problem?

Carrie Anne -  How do you mean a problem? Do you mean problem for young people?

Chris - Why are we not teaching kids programming in school?

Carrie Anne - Well, I think for a long time, we weren't teaching programming in primary and secondary school. It's just simply because it wasn't on the curriculum. A lot of teachers would not have known how to teach it either. So, it was missing for a long time with a curriculum that wanted to teach young people skills that they thought were necessary for the workplace, digital literacy skills that would make a young person employable later on. And I think what actually happened was programming and the skills of programming - and not just programming, but understanding how computers work and how networks work and what the internet is made up of, and how all that stuff happens all just kind of got lost.

Chris - I mean my feeling as an external to all this is that computer science largely became regarded as a sort of extended workshop in how to make Microsoft word work or how to do a spreadsheet rather than actually fundamentally understanding how you make a computer work.

Carrie Anne - I think a large aspect of the previous curriculum did involve that. I can say I taught the old curriculum and I did have to teach Word and PowerPoint, and Excel. But a good teacher takes that curriculum and they see how they can actually introduce computing concepts to it. I taught sequencing and I taught control quite often in the previous curriculum. I think the movement towards a new curriculum, a computing curriculum is actually being led by teachers, good teachers who saw that we had lost those wonderful skills. I'm old enough also to remember BBC micro. There was one in my primary school classroom and I started turtle graphics on that because I was particularly good at maths in primary school. But as I went through secondary school, I wouldn't consider myself to be very academic. I didn't get A stars and A's at GCSE's, but computer programming, what I was doing at home was empowering me as an individual and that's what led me into my career and ultimately, to bring it back into the classroom.

Chris - Eben, why should someone go and buy Raspberry Pi because quite frankly, you could do with your laptop or your desktop whatever you could do on a Raspberry Pi couldn't you? I mean, it's just Linux, I can install a copy that, it's free and Python is the programming language you're using, I can go and get that for free off the internet and install that on my desktop.

Eben - Absolutely and I think we suggest people should do that. It simply isn't the case though that all children have a laptop or a desktop computer that they can install these tools onto. If they do, they absolutely should. I think the thing that Raspberry Pi that we found that children find very enjoyable about the Raspberry Pi is you can connect into physical hardware. So unlike a PC, it has these interfacing capabilities. It turns out that moving a pixel around on the screen is nowhere near as cool as it was when I was a kid in the 1980s. Moving an object around in the real world is just as cool or possibly even more cool now that you can connect that object to the internet.

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