Raspberry Pi – Will Some Children Be Left Behind?

This morning there is much excitement in the media and on twitter about the launch of Raspberry Pi.  A small computer developed to help children to learn how to code.

Rory Cellan-Jones talks about how it will offer “every child in the country a cheap computer on which they can learn to programme”. There’s no doubt it’s brilliant, long overdue in a country where our education system (with a few exceptions) has largely confined classes featuring computers to learning about how to use word processing packages, rather than what’s under the hood.

I went to school in the early 80s, when learning to programme really was something for the hardened coder.  It didn’t even feature on most people’s radar as being relevant or interesting or something that was worthwhile.  But as we know now, the geeks shall inherit the earth, and programming is officially cool.  Largely thanks to the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin, Steve Wozniak et al, everyone appreciates the opportunities that can come from being a good programmer. And now there are so many resources available for anyone to teach themselves, with initiatives like Codecademy aiming to make it as accessible as possible.

So middle class parents, striving to give the best to their children, will no doubt be rushing out today to buy their Raspberry Pi’s to help give their child a head start (they may have to wait actually, stockists are already showing as sold out, presumably because vast swathes of middle aged men have already snapped them up…). And I think it’s fantastic to develop this kind of knowledge in children, I certainly will with mine. But I also worry that there will, inevitably, be a whole section of the population who will be left behind.

Martha Lane-Fox has long championed the need for digital inclusion, and Race Online 2012 is an admirable attempt to make a real difference to getting previously marginalised sections of society online.  With the launch of Raspberry Pi, we need to ensure that as well as encouraging people to get online, we also ensure that all children have access to these tools.  Because actually, programming is one of the few skills that really allows you to make a name for yourself with very little but your brains and dedication.  You don’t need friends in high places, or a daddy’s connections but you do need to have access to the tools.  Let’s hope Raspberry Pi really does make a difference.

*photo websmith (under Creative Commons)

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