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From The BBC Micro To The Raspberry Pi: Campaigning For Computer Literacy

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Guest blog post from Alison Hess, research assistant on our new BBC Micro Project. Learn more about the research and how you can contribute below

Raspberry Pi Model B

Raspberry Pi Model B, image courtesy of the Raspberry Pi Foundation

Last week, a new computer was launched, and within seconds, not only sold out, but also crashed the website! The Raspberry Pi is a British designed device, roughly the size of a credit card and costing a miniscule £22. It has been designed to inspire a new generation of schoolchildren to learn about programming. As their website explains, the idea for this grew out of concern about, “the year-on-year decline in the numbers and skills levels of the A Level students applying to read Computer Science in each academic year.”

While this modest device could be set to revolutionise the way computing is taught in schools today, the Raspberry Pi Foundation is not the first organisation to want to improve our computer literacy. The 1980s marked a boom in personal computers, and many people became concerned that the UK would fall behind. The BBC Computer Literacy Project was launched on the 11th of January 1982, with the transmission of the television series ‘The Computer Programme’. At the same time, Acorn released a BBC licensed microcomputer, called the BBC micro.

BBC micro hardware and software from the Science Museum collection.

BBC micro hardware and software from the Science Museum collection.

By 1985 it had been adopted in 80% of UK schools, and along with a range of BBC educational software, was teaching a generation of children about the creative possibilities of computer programming. Today, this generation of programmers has grown up to populate a thriving computer industry in the UK. Places such as ‘Silicon Fen’ in Cambridge, and ‘Techcity’ in East London are known internationally as dynamic and innovative technology hubs.

In a new piece of research sponsored by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA), the Science Museum is investigating the legacy of the BBC Computer Literacy Project, and the BBC micro. To do this we need your help!

Do you have experience of working in the computer and creative industries? Have you set up your own software, design or games company? We’d love to hear about your experiences: Please take our survey and contribute to our research.

Written by Alison Hess

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  1. adrian crawley

    I don’t know if you realised this but the chip in the rPi is a RISC chip developed by Arm, which was originally founded by the people that developed the BBC Micro.

  2. RolyRetro

    My first real experience of programming was BASIC on the BBC Micro, which I learnt to use at School and also in my own time as I had access to a friend’s machine. This is when schools still taught programming rather than ICT, which focuses on how to use applications, not how to write them.

    Something like the Raspberry Pi is a great opportunity to re-introduce programming back into schools, if every schoolchild had a Pi to play with, and a rudimentary programming language like BASIC, we could foster a generation of IT literate graduates.

    I am now working at an IT firm with my fellow computing graduates of 1992, turning over £30m and employing 350 people.

  3. Junks

    I used the BBC micro computers in a wide range of village schools in the late 1980s. I still have boxes of software if a museum is interested in these fascinating programs.

  4. J Wilson

    I also used BBC micro computers to teach Chemistry in late 1980s. I still have not found such good programs which allow children to create an experiment and change proportions etc and see what happens. I decided this morning to try and hunt to see if anyone has saved them online…..
    Someone should take up the offer of Junks above !

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