British kids, like most kids these days, know how to use computers, but not many of them actually have any idea how to program them. And as any TV programmer knows these days, television (along with books, homework and talking to parents) is competing with iPads and other devices these days. So the BBC (with the help of brand partners including ARM, Barclays Bank, Samsung, Microsoft and Lancaster University) is taking matters into its own hands and will hand out up to one million credit-card-sized computers to Britain’s pre-teenagers to help inspire a sea change.
The venerable broadcaster plans to start the giveaway in October and showed off the final design of its pocket-sized Micro Bit (aka micro:bit) this week, part of its Make It Digital public education campaign. In the BBC’s most ambitious education initiative for 30 years, the devices will be given to every 11 or 12 year old child (in year 7 or equivalent) across the UK, for free.
The computer has a “programmable array of red LED lights,” the BBC notes. It does not have a battery slot and anyone who wants to keep it going will need an add-on power pack.
“We all know there’s a critical and growing digital skills gap in this country and that’s why it’s so important that we come together and do something about it,” BBC director general Tony Hall commented.
Code for the Micro Bit can be written on a website accessible on mobile devices and PCs. After testing their programs on the site, kids can move it to the device with a standard USB cable or wireless Bluetooth connection. They will be able to turn the Micro Bit into a controller for such things as video games or DVD players as well as to spell out words with the LED lights.
“The BBC Micro Bit is all about young people learning to express themselves digitally,” said BBC Learning head Sinead Rocks. “As the Micro Bit is able to connect to everything from mobile phones to plant pots and Raspberry Pi’s, this could be for the Internet of Things what the BBC Micro was to the British gaming industry.”
While the first batch will be handed out for free, the BBC will also eventually sell Micro Bits in the UK and abroad. It also plans to open-source the specs as well.
This isn’t the first time the BBC has gotten involved with digital education. Back in the ‘80s, it created the Micro, which helped British kids experience home computing. According to Hall, that device “shifted the conversation around computing,” the Guardian reports. The BBC is hoping it can do so again, Micro Bit by Micro Bit.