Microsoft, the BBC and others are teaming up to encourage computer science education in and outside the classroom by providing every Year 7 (ages 11-12) student in the United Kingdom with their very own BBC micro:bit for free. In total the BBC and its partners are expecting to give away up to 1 million devices.
The BBC micro:bit was developed in partnership by a number of companies, including ARM, Farnell, Microsoft and Samsung. The BBC micro:bit partners are hoping that the smaller than a credit card device will help inspire the next generation of programmers and introduce children to coding at an earlier age.
The device works by plugging it in to a computer via USB, and is programmed through a new browser coding and content platform called Microsoft TouchDevelop. This platform was specifically created to help children build programs for touch screen devices, from smartphones to large desktop operating systems.
On today’s announcement, Microsoft says:
“The Microsoft TouchDevelop platform has been designed so that as students get more advanced, they can create even more sophisticated programmes and build libraries of code that they can re-use and share with other users. Eventually, they can progress to use the computer language C++, which professional computer scientists use. This ability to transition to a more sophisticated programming language is a key differentiator for Microsoft TouchDevelop. And it’s also a crucial element for helping not just create computer enthusiasts, but future computer scientists.”
The project hopes to ready more computer-literate individuals to fill skill gaps in the UK. Stephen Hodges, principal researcher at Microsoft Cambridge and early fan of the BBC Micro in the 1980s, says in today’s post that “we’ve all become very good consumers of technology. It’s not sustainable. We need to have producers of technology.”
Jeanette Wing, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s core research labs, also says that this project will not just help encourage the next generation of programmers, but provide students with a more scientific experience of attacking problems, regardless of whatever career path they end up taking. Wing adds that with the micro:bit, “students can experience a tangible way of working with computational thinking.”
You can learn more about the project on Microsoft’s News Centre UK.