BBC plans to help get the nation coding

BBC director general Tony Hall outlines his plans to get Britain coding in 2015.

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The BBC's director general, Tony Hall, has announced plans to "bring coding into every home, business and school in the UK".

It comes 30 years on from a BBC push to make computing mainstream by putting BBC Micro computers in the majority of schools.

In a speech to staff, Mr Hall said that the initiative would launch in 2015.

"We want to inspire a new generation to get creative with coding, programming and digital technology," he said.

Government and technology experts are becoming increasingly worried that vital computing skills are no longer being taught in schools.

Meanwhile interest in higher-education IT and computing courses is falling, giving rise to fears about a massive skills gap.

From September 2014 children in schools in England will start learning computer coding from the age of five, so today's announcement from the BBC is timely.

After mounting criticism of ICT as a subject concentrating on office skills rather than anything more in-depth, the government acted to scrap the curriculum in search of something better.

From Codecademy to Raspberry Pi to CoderDojo, all kinds of initiatives are springing up with the aim of transforming the way children understand computers.

But there's a problem - many teachers feel they lack the skills and the materials needed to teach coding.

Exactly how the BBC's year of coding will work is still to be decided - but there may be a role in acting as the glue to bring all these different initiatives together.

The Corporation will have to be careful that it doesn't tread on anyone's toes - one previous educational venture BBC Jam had to be cancelled after complaints from commercial companies.

But if the BBC can use its creativity to make coding cool that could have a big impact, giving the UK skills that are vital for a modern economy.

This term a new computer science curriculum has been introduced to schools in England, and Education Minister Michael Gove has made it clear that he wants to see coding taught as a priority.

Ralph Rivera, director of future media at the BBC, said: "The BBC has played a hugely important role in inspiring a generation of digital and technology leaders in the past, and now it's time to reignite that creativity."

"We want to transform the nation's ability and attitude towards coding," he added.

Modern geek

Details of the programme were limited, but the BBC said that it would partner with government, educators and technology companies.

"From working with children and young people, to stimulating a national conversation about digital creativity, the BBC will help audiences embrace technology and get creative," the corporation said in a blog post.

A range of tools would be made available to give people "the skills to solve problems, tell stories and build new business in the digital world", it added.

Experts appearing in a video to accompany the speech, agreed that action was needed.

Martha Lane Fox, charged with getting more people online via her organisation Go on UK, said: "We are going to need a million more people who can work in the technology sector over the next 10 years. We don't have them. We've got to help to encourage people to go into that sector."

Meanwhile, Eben Upton - founder of the Raspberry Pi budget computer project - said he looked forward to seeing how the scheme developed.

BBC Micro The BBC Micro played a big role in making computing mainstream

"A generation of UK developers got their start thanks to the original BBC Computer Literacy Project and the BBC Micro," he said.

"This initiative represents a welcome return to computing education from the organisation that was responsible for my interest in the subject."


However, the comparison of the project to the BBC Micro raises potential controversy.

The broadcaster's decision to partner with Acorn Computers three decades ago angered Sir Clive Sinclair as he prepared to launch a rival machine, the ZX Spectrum.

"They are marvellous at making programmes and so on, but by God they should not be making computers, any more than they should be making BBC cars or BBC toothpaste," he told Practical Computing magazine in 1982.

"They were able to get away with making computers because none of us had sufficient power or pull with the government to put over just what a damaging action that was. They had the unmitigated gall to think that they could set a standard - the BBC language. It is just sheer arrogance on their part."

However, Apps for Good - an organisation which has helped students research, design and make software for three years - was not concerned by the new scheme.

Sir Clive Sinclair Sir Clive Sinclair was angered by the BBC Micro project

"The BBC is entering a market where there's a number of players, but players who already work quite collaboratively," said Debbie Forster, the organisation's chief operating officer.

"Because there is such a big issue at stake and it is so important to so many different organisations what we are finding is that partnerships are formed more easily and more positively.

"Obviously the devil is in the detail in making it work - it always is - but it's a fascinating space and we look forward to hearing more and would be delighted for the BBC to join forces with everyone who is in here doing something."

Learning Tree International - a firm which makes money from running programming training courses - was also unworried about the idea of the BBC becoming a competitor.

"From the point of view of getting people more inspired about IT and into that world, as such, it can only be a positive thing," said the firm's marketing director Christian Trounce.

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