BBC Gives 1 Million Free Computers to Kids for Coding Education

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Publicly-funded broadcaster BBC will give computers to 1 million 11-year-old children in the UK this year in an effort to increase interest in coding.

The basic Micro Bit computer will be handed out to children starting secondary school this September.  Coding became part of the curriculum in Britain last year in order to increase interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.  Students are taught two or more programming languages in addition to other related topics including Internet safety, writes Rich Trenholm for CNET.

“Programming is becoming the language of the 21st century” says Rachel Swidenbank, head of UK operations at coding teaching platform Codecademy. “Anyone anywhere should have access to be able to learn these skills. At Codecademy, we are excited to be supporting BBC Make it Digital to help provide this education to even more children and adults in the UK.”

The Micro Bit, described as a “small, wearable… entry-level coding device,” allows students to “pick it up, plug it into a computer and start creating with it immediately.”  The BBC has worked with a variety of companies on the device, including Samsung, Microsoft, ARM, Barclays and the people behind Raspberry Pi.

It is hoped that the introduction of the Micro Bit will lead to more complex devices like the Raspberry Pi, Arduino or Kano.

“We have already seen our customers across the world develop fantastic products for the Internet of Things,” says Element14 CEO and Raspberry Pi manufacturer Laurence Bain, “and we can’t wait to see what the Micro Bit can enable for the engineers of the future.”

The initiative, known as Make It Digital, also offers its services to older students through a 9-week apprenticeship for unemployed people, teaching them basic digital skills.  In addition, a season of coding-themed programs and activities will air on BBC TV channels as well as online, including a drama based on the Grand Theft Auto video games, and Radio 4 programs pertaining to the history of coding.

The events come as part of a nationwide effort to increase digital education in order to help fill the tech skills gap.  It is estimated that the UK will need 1.4 million additional “digital professionals” within the next five years, reports Jane Wakefield for the BBC.

“This is exactly what the BBC is all about – bringing the industry together on an unprecedented scale and making a difference to millions,” said BBC director-general Tony Hall at an event in London. “Just as we did with the BBC Micro in the 1980s, we want to inspire the digital visionaries of the future. Only the BBC can bring partners together to attempt something this ambitious, this important to Britain’s future on the world stage.”