Strategic CIO // IT Strategy
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1/29/2013
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Google U.K., Raspberry Pi Donate School PCs

Google U.K. teams with Raspberry Pi to donate 15,000 cut-down computers to British schools and inspire the next generation of computer engineers.

As part of ongoing U.K. government ambitions to deepen its young people's tech skill base, British schoolchildren are going to get their very own skeleton computers, called the Raspberry Pi.

The Pi is a credit-card shaped device that holds the basic brain of a computer, but has no screen or keyboard. The challenge, therefore, is to hook up whatever is at hand to get the thing talking back -- and then program it to do something useful. The idea: get kids, who are used to playing complex computer games with millions of polygons whizzing around, to understand that none of that great stuff comes for free -- you have to build it, line by line. Costing a mere $25 or $35 (about £16 or £22), depending on the model, the unit is meant to be an affordable entry to computer science at the grassroots.

Now the devices will given away free to 15,000 British secondary schools (grade 6 up) in an attempt to spark a new generation of hobbyists who'll want to build ever more complex systems and eventually found global tech enterprises, i.e., British Googles.

The scheme -- interestingly enough, financially supported by the U.K. arm of that selfsame search giant -- supports ongoing attempts to reform the British IT teaching curriculum and get more kids metaphorically getting their hands dirty doing real soldering and code-cutting as a basis for developing long-term interests in engineering.

[ Venture capitalists are doing big deals in the educational market. See Education Tech Investments Surpassed $1 Billion In 2012. ]

It's also an echo of the BBC Micro, a famous 1980s program where microcomputers branded with the BBC logo entered British school rooms -- a wave that sparked, if nothing else, a generation enamored of copying out BASIC game program listings, if not (noticeably at least) any Britannia-based Steve Jobs-type competitors a generation later.

Eben Upton, cofounder of the firm that makes the Raspberry Pi, said: "We hope that our new partnership with Google will be a significant moment in the development of computing education in the U.K. We believe that this can turn around the year-on-year decline in the numbers and skill sets of students applying to read computer science at [British] universities."

Google U.K. and Upton's firm have partnered with six local U.K. educational partners, including Code Club, Computing at School, Generating Genius and Coderdojo, to support teachers and students, help build programs and offer practical help.

On hand for the cameras at a British school Tuesday, Google chair Eric Schmidt told the BBC, "Britain's innovators and entrepreneurs have changed the world -- the telephone, television and computers were all invented here. We have been working to encourage the next generation of computer scientists, and we hope this donation to British school pupils will help drive a new wave of innovation."

Editor's note: Story updated to correct Raspberry Pi prices.

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