A $35 computer for education: But it’s never been about the hardware
Thanks to everyone who has sent me links about the UK’s new Raspberry Pi computer, a roughly $35 computer designed to make computing economically accessible to children everywhere. The reports that I keep reading about the excitement around it are astounding, e.g., one “Middle East” country plans to buy one for every schoolchild. I’ve had at least one query asking me what resources I know of for teaching with the Raspberry Pi.
None at all that I’m aware of, and that leads to the point that’s concerning to me. The problem of computing education has never been about the hardware. Look at the XO laptop — whether one considers it an overall success or not, what success it has had is due in large part to its software and to the infrastructure behind it (e.g., the repair system). I’ve seen lots of instances of hardware going to waste in schools because of a lack of software and of training for teachers in how to use the hardware. Is it really a lack of hardware that prevents the UK schools from teaching more computer science? I’ll bet that most UK schoolchildren already own cell phones that are more powerful than the Raspberry Pi.
I like the sentiment expressed below, about how important it is to get real computer science into the schools. Agreed! But I don’t think the answer is just a cheap computer.
Second, we need to persuade Michael Gove and his colleagues that the subject that should be taught to all children is not ICT but something called computer science. The idea that there’s a major body of knowledge in this field – complete with a stable and intellectually rigorous conceptual framework that is independent of today’s or yesterday’s gadgetry – is probably unfamiliar to residents of Whitehall, who think ICT is trivial because it’s always becoming obsolete.
Learning about computer science involves learning to program – to write computer code , because this is the means by which computational thinking is expressed. We wouldn’t dream of teaching pupils about German culture without expecting them to speak German. The same holds for computer science.