The BBC has announced a plan to distribute a million tiny computers to students starting secondary school this fall. The 11-year-olds will get one of the BBC’s new Micro Bit devices which are designed to help kids learn to code and use technology.

bbc micro bit

The Micro Bit hardware is still under development, but it’s expected to be a small, low-power, wearable device with LED lights, Bluetooth, and an ARM-based processor.

Another UK entity had a similar idea a few years ago: the Raspberry Pi $35 computer may have proven popular with educators, hobbyists, and home theater enthusiasts around the globe, but it started off as a project designed to bring computers into the classroom. The Raspberry Pi Foundation is working with the BBC on its Micro Bit project.

Officials says the Micro Bit is a simpler device than a Raspberry Pi, but it’ll be something students can learn to program using Touch Develop, Python, and C++ languages.

BBC says its Micro Bit mini PC will be able to connect to a range of other devices… including a Raspberry Pi, Arduino, Galileo, or even other Micro Bits.

This isn’t the BBC’s first entry into the educational computer space. The institution also worked with Acorn Computer to produce the BBC Micro line of computers which were distributed to British schools in the 1980s.

The Micro Bit project is part of a larger BBC Make it Digital initiative aimed at encouraging a new generation of kids to learn programming and technology skills. The production of the Micro Bit computers will be a one-time deal though. The BBC plans to produce and distribute a million of the little computers this fall and then it will stop making them. But if the project proves successful I wouldn’t be surprised to see similar initiatives in the future.

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13 replies on “BBC to give a million mini PCs to school kids this fall”

  1. I know its a bit offtopic Brad, but did R-Pi people ever succeed (or someone else) in creating an educational component to the R-Pi? I know one of the goals besides getting kids to code was to reach as many kids as possible where buying a computer wasnt a possibility (reason why you can plug an R-Pi in a TV) but from all Ive seen about its success stories with kids, its been mainly A) kids at school who have teachers who are knowledgeable (not many) B) kids who have dads who are computer geeks and have someone show them the ropes C) the kids who would have been interested in coding/geeking/makerfairing even without an R-Pi.
    Groups B and C have little to do with the R-Pi, they would have been at the same spot with or without it.
    Upton’s goal was go get kids outside those two groups.
    The BIG audience to reach are the ones that have no one to guide them.

    More than a few friends have texted me over the past year or two wanting to know if they should get their kids a Pi because they read about it. ALL of them arent computer nerds and ALL were afraid that they would buy the 129$ (LadyAda price for the whole kit) computer and then go ‘Now what?’
    Im sure you can keep busy on your own with a Pi but lets be honest, its just a computer. Its no different than your laptop or desktop except the price makes it a bit more affordable and you dont worry about the kids breaking it. Sitting in front of a screen running a R-Pi or some quad core is the same.

    I kept waiting and waiting to see if they would even get their educational component ready to be all inclusive and even though the Kano project does a great job of marketing towards kids, its educational aspect is also defficient.

    Which is why Im curious if BBC will be simply giving away these things so ‘teachers can take care of teaching’ or if they plan to get that extra step and prepare a curriculum which would allow kids to learn on their own.
    You can combine fun online courses blended in with video and experiments to teach and awake interest in kids of varying ages. A 6-7 yr old and a 12-13yr old can not be taught the same way.

    But to say, “here is a computer, now learn on your own” is a recipe for disaster that many parents fear as well they should. The size and price of the computer is not enough to get kids to care. Those two things are meaningless in that aspect.
    The hard work is to get them in front of a computer and get them interested in coding. And so far, it seems to have been a failure.

  2. Remove teaching them to write from the curriculum and replace it with blinking a LED. Brilliant idea…

  3. Diff between this and the Rpi, as far as I could tell from the BBC’s news report, is that this isnt a standalone general purpose PC – It’s more like a programmable logic board. You need a dev machine to program it.

    It’s a nice idea. A logic board with a fixed output device (the LEDs) leads to some clear use cases and exercises, but also a simple platform to be a little bit creative.

    You’ll never find a single device, or programming languages, or lesson that gets every kid interested in coding – But this is one more approach that will resonate with a few kids, so good project I say..

  4. These efforts have some merit but I’m not sure they warrant the expense. Very little computer programming or technology labor is sourced domestically when the barriers to using 3rd world workers are so low. For all we know even more money is spent trying to ramp up the skills of Great Apes to be a new slave class for these endeavors at far less cost than people in bare subsistance economies.

    1. Right. And why bother learning English when I can get an Indonesian on Fiverr to write content for me…

  5. C++ is for experienced programmers, they’d better teach pure C

      1. No it does not, C compilers are much more mature, at least they are for microcontrollers.

    1. C++ is easy, but C++ coders like to pretend they’re the only ones who are really hard-core.

      1. “C++ is easy” Then what is hard assembly? Coding binary by hand? Considering widely used languages, it is probably the hardest of them, it is too complex, sometimes badly designed, some features look like if they had just hacked them on top of C. I do not say C++ is a good language, but it compiles to native code and object oriented. If you want to teach someone programming you should start with C, because going from high level to low is hard, but from low to high it is not.

    1. That’s my opinion too…
      They are too late, unfortunately. They won’t have the momentum that other projects have, and there will be a waste of money for a dead project.
      IMHO, they should join RPi Foundation or BB or wandboard, (if it posible) and push money into that project rather than a new product. I think they’ll have more succes.
      Rpi have the same goal, why not joining them completly?

      1. Well, it’s only a few dollars’ worth of components – not really comparable to the RPI. And presumably many households have a computer of some sort that this could be plugged into and programmed (and/or the schools do).

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