Many sources feel education is failing schoolchildren by teaching them how to use software, rather than programming it. Will the latest £22 gadget be the answer?
The Raspberry Pi is a credit-card-sized PC with all the components built on to a single circuit board. This means it’s cheaper to produce than a conventional computer – it costs just £22 – and, unlike many PC circuit boards, it is compatible with parts made by different manufacturers.
This is about as barebones as a PC can get and the stripped-down design means the Raspberry Pi isn’t as powerful as your average computer. But this is not really a problem, as it wasn’t made to compete with consumer PCs. It was made to fix a problem in education.
Speaking in January 2012, Education Secretary Michael Gove called the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) curriculum “offputting, demotivating and dull”, while Schools Minister Nick Gibb said ICT teaching was “far too patchy”. Furthermore, a Royal Society report on ICT in education demanded a radical overhaul of the subject.
A 2011 Ofsted report showed a huge drop in students taking ICT at GCSE level. Between 2007 and 2011 there was a 64 per cent fall in numbers.
Eben Upton, a founder at the Raspberry Pi foundation, criticised the teaching of topics such as Word and Powerpoint, saying this approach was essentially pointless.
“The current focus on low-value secretarial skills is a disaster. These skills become obsolete very quickly and children would likely pick them up on their own, even if not taught formally. It’s a bad sign that ICT lessons are frequently described as boring by children who are enthusiastic users of computers in daily life.
“Raspberry Pi can provide a platform for children to interact with computers at a much lower level, providing them with a gateway to higher value skills such as programming.
“Anecdotally, we know there are a lot of children who want these skills, for example as a way into the games industry, but who currently lack a platform on which to practice.”
This hands-on approach is shared by Shaun Eason, assistant head and ICT teacher at All Saints Catholic School and Technology College, Dagenham: “Learning is about trial and error, and experience. The Raspberry Pi gives that opportunity if used in the right way. I’d like to see what a class of 30 students could come up with.”
Time to educate
At the MacTaggart lecture in Edinburgh last year, CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, expressed his shock at the demise of computer science in UK schools: “I was flabbergasted to learn that today computer science isn’t even taught as standard in UK schools. Your IT curriculum focuses on teaching how to use software, but gives no insight into how it’s made. That is just throwing away your great computing heritage.”
Jodie Collins, ICT co-ordinator at Colegrave Primary School in Stratford, is hopeful the Raspberry Pi can change that.
“The key to improving ICT in education is going to be in skilling up staff, not providing the latest gadget. I want to try it out and am sure I will implement its use. But without adequate training, all new technologies become worthless in the hands of anyone unskilled or lacking confidence to give it a go.”
Consensus suggests ICT education is out of date. But schools need to be able to teach computer programming skills before this can become a realistic prospect. Combined with an overhaul of the curriculum, we think the Raspberry Pi could and should play a big part in making ICT teaching more relevant.
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