Google to give schools Raspberry Pi microcomputers

Google chairman Eric Schmidt: "The Raspberry Pi is first and foremost a very clever design"

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Schools around the UK are to be given 15,000 free microcomputers, with a view to creating a new generation of computer scientists.

Funded by Google, the Raspberry Pi Foundation hopes the free devices will inspire children to take up coding.

The pared-down Raspberry Pi, launched a year ago, is already a huge success.

There are concerns current information and communications technology (ICT) teaching is inadequate preparation for the future jobs in technology.

Analysis: Beyond the Pi

The Raspberry Pi has a growing number of rivals.

For hobbyists there is Julian Skidmore's 8-bit Fignition that costs about the same as a Pi.

Slightly pricier, but not by much, are the APC from VIA, Rikomagic's MK802 and RK3066, the BeagleBoard, the Mele A1000 and the Hiapad Hi-802.

Alongside these are more expensive products such as FXI's Cotton Candy Android computer, Intel's Next Unit of Computing, Xi3's Piston and Zotac's ZBOX.

These cost a good deal more than a £27 Model B Pi - upwards of £150 - and aim to be a fully featured computer.

Other manufacturers are getting into the puny PC game though their devices are not as malleable as a Pi.

Favi's computer on a USB stick acts as a media server. Dell is doing something similar with Project Ophelia which will do some work locally but shunt the hard stuff to the cloud.

Skill decline

The partnership was announced at Chesterton Community College in Cambridge, where children were given a coding lesson by Google's chairman Eric Schmidt and Raspberry Pi co-founder Eben Upton.

Raspberry Pi The Raspberry Pi may not look pretty but it has inspired many innovations

"We hope that our new partnership with Google will be a significant moment in the development of computing education in the UK," said Mr Upton.

"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 university."

Over the past decade, the number of people studying computer science in the UK dropped by 23% at undergraduate level and by 34% at graduate level.

British innovators

To help ensure teachers and children get the best out of the devices, Google and Raspberry Pi are working with six educational partners, including Code Club, Computing at School, Generating Genius and Coderdojo. They will distribute the devices to schools around the UK.

In the past Mr Schmidt has said ICT teaching in the UK puts too much emphasis on using, rather than creating, software.

Announcing Google's Raspberry Pi giveaway, on Tuesday, he said: "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."

Google is also sponsoring ICT teacher training via a scheme in conjunction with the Teach First charity.

Sponsorship suspicions

It has led some critics to question whether large corporations such as Google should take on such a role.

"Schools are increasingly being used as marketing venues by companies promoting their own brands in return for teaching resources, books, sports equipment or computers," said a National Union of Teachers representative.

Eric Schmidt with students from Chesterton Community College Eric Schmidt joined students in Cambridge for a coding lesson

"Commercial sponsorship of school resources and equipment and their involvement in training can actively undermine teachers' efforts to educate children about the dangers of manipulation and commercial exploitation."

Rival Microsoft has also called for a shake-up of how computer science is taught in the UK.

"Computer science is something that we have been calling the 'fourth science' for some time. We believe that it is every bit as important as physics, chemistry and biology," said Steve Beswick, director of education at Microsoft.

"By formally introducing children to computer science basics at primary school, we stand a far greater chance of increasing the numbers taking the subject through to degree level and ultimately the world of work."

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