back to article Bash Street bytes: Do UK schools really need the Raspberry Pi?

There’s been a right fracas in education this year, with the government proclaiming that ICT (Information and Communication Technology) teaching is dull and demotivating, and that kids need to be be taught more programming, and less use of applications. Into the fray like a white knight comes the Raspberry Pi, a tool designed to …

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Anonymous Coward

Yes of course.

We need coders, and we need them to be cheap.

So we train locals up, and exploit them, because it's politically easier than importing Indians.

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Childcatcher

Re: Yes of course.

"The street finds its own uses for things" - William Gibson, Burning Chrome, my emphasis

They will use the tools/knowledge you give them, but not necessarily for the purposes you intended.

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Re: Yes of course.

Coders (or any other worker) will never be able to match the low costs, low overheads and low wages in other countries.

Why? for a start, people in Britian believe in the "because you're worth it" mentality. They feel they have a "right" to a high standard of living: TVs, cars, heating, food, etc, whereas workers in many countries would only aspire to one or two of those pricey goals. On top of that, being an island and an overcrowded one AND one with strict green-belt / planing regulations, there will always be a scarcity of housing. That makes having a roof over your head a costly proposition simply due to supply (small) and demand (high, and growing). So people need to earn a lot just to live - even before they go for the luxuries: holidays, children and a takeaway pizza every night.

Even if we suddenly had a million new coders injected into the workforce there would be no uptake of this army of programmers, they'd simply be too expensive to employ.

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Unhappy

I am Legend of Coders!

Don't know why anyone would downvote this.

I can only take issue with

"Even if we suddenly had a million new coders injected into the workforce there would be no uptake of this army of programmers, they'd simply be too expensive to employ."

No they wouldn't. Their wages would drop below what they need to take in per month, which would mean they would not offer their coding skills for sale but convert to gardening for example.

Why gardening? Because I'm just checking the hourly rates of the "socially responsible gardening company dealing in workforce re-insertion of hard-to-employ people" that we have around here (and that btw. is destroying the actual gardening companies).... 32 EUR/h?

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Re: I am Legend of Coders!

Or the value of the products they produce would be enough to pay them a reasonable wage.

There is a reason we have Rolls Royce jet engines built in Britain and Nike trainers made in China - it's something to do with the skills needed to do the job and the value of the finished product.

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Stop

Re: I am Legend of Coders!

"There is a reason we have Rolls Royce jet engines built in Britain and Nike trainers made in China - it's something to do with the skills needed to do the job and the value of the finished product."

bit behind the times here... engine production is being outsourced now to plants in Poland... I suspect engine servicing and engine testing will be going the same way as well...

Rolls Royce Derby is being slowly but surely outsourced...

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Childcatcher

Re: Yes of course.

Well no actually.

But we do need flexible brains and this is the way to get them involved in "creative thinking and doing" and just maybe getting them intersted in technology.

Who needs a nation of lawyers? (OK so Samsung and Apple do but that is beside the point).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Yes of course.

Im anonymous as I know this will get flames going. I have recently set up an IT business and have been using out-sourced coders in India, Kuala Lumpur and the Philippines. The reason, they have amazing work ethics - great coders (I know there are bad as well as good) and the price is rock bottom.

Im competing against major companies, beating them on price and delivering ahead of schedule and still making a profit.

I would love to hire a band of brits, but unfortunately it would price me out of the market place, even if I was paying National Minimum Wage.

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And does their code

metaphorically resemble an Italian foodstuff often served with meatballs?

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Gimp

Re: I am Legend of Coders!

And where do they make iPads...

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We need them for democracy

Democracy requires every person to understand the world to some degree. Computers are an important part of our world. So people need to have at least a general idea about how they work. They need to know what they do where their inherent limitations are.

If you don't teach children how to program, they will grow up not understanding why "copy protection" cannot work, or why voting machines can never be used for democratic elections.

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Re: We need them for democracy

"requires every person to understand the world to some degree"

Not just democracy. In part lots of aspects of education are of themselves no direct path to a career. For example most people are not going to use calculus or chemistry or lots of other parts of the syllabus. It doesn't mean that exposure to some aspects isn't worthwhile. Many people don't know what they want to do - exposure to a bit of coding or hardware hacking may well be the start of someones career - I'm sure it was for some people here.

Although I'm not an IT professional an interest in electronics from 13 and coding all my adult life meant that when I NEEDED to write my own software for scientific purposes I could.

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Seriously!?

“So we’re going to spend five to ten minutes at the start of every lesson, and the same again at the end, fiddling around with unplugging and reconnecting the PCs already in the room?”

Glad he wasn't my Computer Studies/Science teacher at school.

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Re: Seriously!?

And why would they need to? Except for some unusual projects.

Kid has SD card, school has RasPi. No need to unplug anything other than the SD card.

Kid wants to tinker? Kid can buy their own RasPi for home use (or get from the school or whatever).

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Meh

Re: Seriously!?

“So we’re going to spend five to ten minutes at the start of every lesson, and the same again at the end,getting out tools, sweeping up and putting things away again?"

Glad he wasn't my Woodwork teacher at school. Lazy git.

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Re: Seriously!?

hplasm nutshells it. There seems to be this strange idea that everything should just be handed to "us" (us being teachers, students, workers or whoever) on a silver platter without any effort. Life is not like that. Life is hard and painful and requires that we do something to get something.

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Re: Seriously!?

I think that he is making a valid point.

If you went into a computer suite with 30 already wired in computers it would take ages to get the pupis to unplug the keyboards mice etc, (even if they could as most keyboards/mice etc are locked to the cases to prevent theft) find a plug socket for the PSU etc. Ecen then a fairly high proportion of the class would have forgotten their SD card etc etc.

The idea of getting thirty pupils to put the PC,s back together at the then of the lesson in a state where the PCs will just boot in anything less that 10 - 15 minutes is a laugh. If my school is anything to go by you the teacher have to check each pc individually and sign that they are working OK before leaving the classroom.

Overall this would take half the lesson or more.

If you are thinking that the school would dedicate a room with 30x RPi all set up ready to go then I think this would be a very rare school indeed, they just do not have the room for something that will be used once in a while.

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Re: Seriously!?

Not to mention the wear and tear on cables and sockets.

I do wonder if some people get too hung up on the PI. As a way to learn about hardware it's good and also as a cheap and flexible embedded controller. But for education I'm not so sure. If the objective is to train 'coders' you can do that with software as the article says. I don't really see any value in knowing that the program you wrote is sitting on a circuit board beside the monitor.

We do need people who can do the low level hardware stuff but frankly we don't need very many of them. That's primitive programming (no denigration intended). The real value to the economy is in people who can write applications and that has little to do with hardware on a day-to-day basis. Heck if 'the cloud' really takes off programming will have bugger all to with hardware. I bet in ten year's time most programmers won't even know where the code is running (I feel sad about that but progress is progress).

NB: To the purists/pedants. Yes I know that even 'the cloud' runs on hardware. It's something I've pointed out to people in the past. However a modern day 'programmer' can put in a full day's work for several years without ever having to know anything about the silicon magic.

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Re: Seriously!?

This is the most disappointing bit of the article: Why do kids bring their own PI when they can just bring their SD card to the lesson, plug it into the PI that's screwed down to the desk, then take it home and plug it into their own PI to do there homework, or just experiment. If a kid forgets their SD card, or its rendered useless in some other way, just give them a new one with the class's default image.

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I work in schools. Have done all my adult life, from primary through to sixth form college through to private schools.

I had one of the first Raspberry Pi's out of the factory. It's gathering dust in my loft. First, there were technical problems (admittedly not ones that affect everyone, but they took months to fix). Secondly, the "£25" computer is a myth. You have to buy cases, SD cards, highly-regulated power supplies, plus something for it to plug into (like a monitor for a start). PER DEVICE. Then, it does nothing that a basic distro of Linux cannot do. Hell, if it came to it, I could run all the RPi distributions in a virtual machine on the ordinary ICT Suite computers. The expansion to, for example, control devices? Well that's in the realm of hobbyist electronics and as such either you're already doing it without the RPi, or you can't do it anyway (like a lot of schools, including my own back in the day, electronics requires a teacher who knows what they are doing and schools don't always have them).

Even then, even if you love it, and the PTA splash money on it, and you have no technical problems, and you don't have an ICT Suite to do these things and you have a good teacher teaching it (most of the ones I've met who were in charge of ICT would be all keen to get this thing and then, when they realise there's no £1000 day course to teach THEM how to use it all and give them free lesson plans, they will consign it to the bin) - even then, you're going to be doing Scratch on it and a few other things that you could have ALREADY been doing years ago if you wanted.

There's nothing special about the RPi for a school. For a hobbyist, sure. For a geek, definitely. But for a school, only the geek kids will love it and the rest will use it as a "practical" lesson (which in recent years has come to mean "a mess-about lesson where we don't get much done but we enjoy it and it keeps us under control").

My school were keen to trial the RPi. It never got past stage one - being able to get enough of them, with the required kit to the point that even a test would be worthwhile (I had problems which involved sending off a perfectly-bog-standard SD card because it would never work and the RPi team had ZERO idea why - my card went off to Taiwan, I believe, to Broadcom employees themselves, there's also problems with power, especially if you want to use USB and there are STILL major USB problems because it conflicts with the SD card access and you often can't get devices to work if they need high-speed - my 3G modem still doesn't work on a RPi and there's nothing unusual about it). Instead, we downloaded Scratch and it's been sitting idle on the network ever since because the teachers don't understand it well enough to teach it.

Putting something into "modern" schools is nothing to do with the name, or the capability. Like I told the project from the start, you need to have the training and the support infrastructure there to handle things. Sure, test schools and those with money and those with excellent staff will tinker with it, but they are tinkering with ANYTHING they think useful. In most schools, the teachers would open up a box of RPi's and have trouble getting them to boot even from a pre-made SD card, let alone teach with it.

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Anonymous Coward

IIRC, the PI is aimed at families who could not afford to spend many ££'s on a home PC.. For basic Debian, you can get a normal SD card (<£5) - you've probably got a phone charger kicking around that will power it - then you just need an inexpensive keyboard, mouse and screen... If you went to any employer and asked if they had an old 15" LCD and usb kb and mouse you could have (even on loan) - given what you're trying to do - I'm sure they would oblige... I certainly would ! Then the children can spend quality time at home putting into practice what they've learnt during the day at School... It's fantastic !! I started on a ZX81 and 30 years later i'm on network monitoring for a major uk network provider / ISP. (with a couple of PI at home).

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"Secondly, the "£25" computer is a myth. You have to buy cases, SD cards, highly-regulated power supplies, plus something for it to plug into (like a monitor for a start). PER DEVICE."

Wrong. Bar the SD card it's no "per device", it's per seat. The keyboard, monitor etc all probably exist right now and are ready to use. Heck, the RasPi can be per seat too, just have the kids carry their own SD card (may not make sense in all cases though).

The RasPi is far from perfect, but the idea is sound and it is better that spunking £500+ on locked-down shite that just spits out brainless button-pushers.

"you need to have the training and the support infrastructure there to handle things."

That exists. They're called "Computer Science Teachers". And then I remember that in England one is not required to have a degree in the subject one teaches.

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I started on a ZX spectrum and we often soldered the thing back together if we broke it when I was a kid (Daley Thomson's Decathlon was banned after the fourth time).

The RPi is *not* aimed at families (though it's not "not aimed at them" either), read any news article and it mentions education and getting them into schools almost exclusively. All the big educational suppliers have them on their catalogues and all the push is towards schools, not home users.

And, again, only the geek families with the geek dad who's willing to work out how to get all that gear and cobble it together in order to provide what a £200 desktop or a £300 laptop already provides *TIMES TEN* would be doing this stuff anyway (the same as you need a geek teacher to teach it and there are surprisingly few of those, even teaching ICT etc.). The article is about education and whether the RPi is necessary or would make a difference. In the same way that there will ALWAYS be a handful of geeky kids, there's always someone who will use the RPi in a geeky way and get something out of it. But nothing they wouldn't get if the RPi didn't exist, and certainly nothing helping those who *aren't* geek-oriented.

I *was* the school geek. Immensely so. I was performing network exploits, stealing network administrator access (with very silly permission and, later, programming defences to my own techniques for the network manager!), getting the computers to do my homework, was the first kid in school to receive an email complimenting my software before teachers even had HEARD of email, was wishing for an electronics club and nearly forming my own (put on a backburner by my running of an early paper precursor of Wikipedia sourcing information - for a price - from my own private library of encyclopaedia). For Art, I managed to write 100 pages on the typography of computer systems because I couldn't bear to do anything non-geeky for even a creative subject. Hell, even my maths work I was using computer algebra systems to do things that got me an A for sheer effort, without even coming to an answer (actually, I was scored higher by recognising that all my work was far too complicated an analysis of the problem at hand to produce a simple answer). That's pretty much why I ended up in the job I did.

And I can't justify my own purchase of a RPi, let alone any school I work for.

Hell, they're still struggling with Logo and Lego.

A school of any decent size will throw out dozens of desktops every year, fully working and blanked off ready for installation. I end up sending them to waste recycling every time and can only ever manage to palm a few off for internal projects or staff with enough know-how that they'll turn them into personal computers without any help anyway. A RPi does not fill the niche you talk about because it barely exists. And where it does, an old Wii is actually infinitely more useful.

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@Lee Dowling

Well, every post I've read from you over the past few months, related to the Raspi, has said pretty much the same thing - extreme negativity because of initial teething troubles. Now some points you make are still valid, but most are not. The latest boards have improved power handling, the latest kernel software (which I presume you haven't tried since you board is in the loft - I'd suggest selling it whilst there is still a backlog) is much improved and fixes the majority of USB issues. Supply issues are almost sorted - going from expected 30k sales per year to 1 million takes a bit of sorting out. It has been surprisingly popular...

As to the usefulness in school - I think the article was extremely good and shows up where it's useful and where it isn't. It's never claimed to be a panacea, but a catalyst to improve the teaching of computers - and it's certainly kicked something off!

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FAIL

the only slight flaw in your logic

is that , old LCD monitors are usually VGA which, you can not connect 'cheaply' to a Pi

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Anonymous Coward

@Lee

You work in schools? What specifically is your job as I'd be interested to know - teach, technician - and how that affects your somewhat negative attitude. Since you were the school 'geek' and did all that fun stuff, how did you end up working in a school (which pays much less that industry which is where most 'geeks' go)

I also do not like the word geek btw.

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WTF?

Re: @Lee Dowling

Has that "one million" claim ever been audited? I'm afraid I have seen far too many tenuous claims from the RPF (they run on two AA batteries, you know) to accept any more without some proof.

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Got a Pi, got a RISC OS image. Found to my amazement that it will, with keyboard and mouse, start up when running from my netbook's USB port for power. Display sucks but understandable since I'm using composite. It's a shame there's no analogue output, but it is the same story for the Beagle. I will get a little TV sometime soon to plug the HDMI in to.

Put it all together, started it up, boot speed into RISC OS was mind-numbing. Maybe I was lucky, or maybe the revision 2 boards are better?

Either way, it's a nice little thing to mess around with. Not sure how this would equate to a classroom; but my introduction to computers was taking apart a Beeb to see what was going on. This is why I still prefer to code in ARM assembler - I can "understand" what is going on at a logical level far from the abstractions of high level languages. Obviously this is a real niche, but you know, *somebody* does the low level stuff. Who, if nobody teaches them?

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Re: @Lee Dowling

Well, the forecast is that there will be approx 1 million sold by the end of the first year of production (next March). Sales to date are in the region of 600k-700k (that figures a bit out of date), and production running at 4000 a week at one of the three factories making them, and is ramping up. The actual limitation is the speed with which the SoC can be produced. They have a long leadtime.

What tenuous claims are you referring to - I'll see if I can confirm or not if you post them.

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Re: @Lee Dowling

Ah right, so "a million sold" means "a million might have been sold in four or five months time if production and demand continue at the current rate." That's just the sort of thing I mean. Hyperbole does no favours here.

Other claims ... well how about "the first ten thousand are on their way" followed by "none at all have been made yet, as we've farmed that out to other companies", or the claim in a R4 interview that they'll run on a couple of AA batteries. However you take 700mA at 5V out of two 1.5V batteries, you won't do it for long ...

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Re: @Lee Dowling

OK, that forecast is based on the orders now - there is still a large backlog of unfulfilled orders, which takes us a long way to 1M. Then there are orders still coming in (and the order rate has not decreased significantly over time, which is unexpected). But, as with all FORECASTS, there will be some error. But, the forecast is 1M by end of March. I'll report back then for the exact figure. If you have a better way of forecasting, please let me know. This is not hyperbole, it's production forecasting given the current information available. Up to this stage btw, all forecasts have been less than what actually happened...read that how you will.

The first 10k were manufactured by the Foundation, then the distributors took over production. So sorry, you are wrong there. Not sure where you got that information from. And I'm not convinced there has ever been a claim it would run of *2* AA batteries...since they do not produce the required 5v. Still, if they are the best two you can come up with...one wrong, and one an off the cuff (presumably) comment on R4....

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"Secondly, the "£25" computer is a myth. You have to buy cases, SD cards, highly-regulated power supplies, plus something for it to plug into (like a monitor for a start). PER DEVICE."

I call bollocks!

I have to agree with many of the comments made in the article and in these comments that the Pi can't really be a "mainstream" computing teaching tool. It can't replace the PCs used for teaching IT or using computers for other subjects. It is a fairly specialised item. But it does not need additional monitor/keyboard/mouse to plug in to. For the specialised use it is put to, set of extra cables could be used to plug in to from a PC (maybe a KVM switch) which would be useful for other purposes anyway. It can also plug up to old TVs. It doesn't need "highly-regulated power supplies", a cheap phone charger will do. For some purposes, you can even (just) run it off the USB port of a PC (I know, I have done it myself). One of those dual USB leads also works well. For it's intended purpose, it doesn't even need a case. All you really need is an SD card, adding maybe £5 to the cost of the device.

I can only see it being practical for teaching small groups of the most enthusiastic and/or able students. Most won't be interested or capable of learning programming, but (from my own experience) maybe 5 out of a class of 30 would. This would leave a great opportunity for that top tier to learn. They can each bring in their own SD card, containing their own work. They can learn to program, build hardware, or hack at the kernel. All is done on their own SD card, so a mistake doesn't break the whole machine.

The only reason that the Pi's costs skyrocket in school environments is that they want to use them as computers. That's not a practical use for them (in schools). Leave them as bare boards, allow the (selected) kids access to electronic components and prototyping boards, and guide them in developing their skills.

Of course, this would need real IT teachers, not those who just know how to adjust the font size in MS Word and struggle to even print the document when they are done.

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Yes, I'm *that* Chika!

And yes, I now have a RasPi, including a RISC OS 6 image. I'm using the HDMI side of things as far as display is concerned and it's pretty impressive! As my last RISC OS experiences were with my old Risc PCs (Miyuki and Madoka), it was quite a step up, even if I did get a few probs with 26-bit modules and such. I have no trouble with boot speeds so you could be right about board issues.

Actually, my belief in all this has been documented in the past here but, in short, this machine is a great idea for the teaching of the upcoming youth, not because it adheres to a specific OS but because it makes the whole idea of computing accessible. Even if you add on all the cost of buying the bits you need to get it to work, you still undercut the vast majority of the sort of kit that traditionally gets installed, and setting up and knocking down is so simple, even a woodwork teacher could do it! It is a good machine to muck around with and that is precisely why it should work well in a classroom.

Should, not will. The application is down to the users, of course.

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Anonymous Coward

I could run all the RPi distributions in a virtual machine on the ordinary ICT Suite computers.

maybe that would be the better route for schools, so long as the image they have been working on is available on a SD card for them to take home an plug into the Pi to carry on with the work they were doing....

the Pi was developed so that the additional components were in most cases thing that you probably already had at home. ad far as a "highly regulated PSU" goes. I have had no problem with any PSU I used my Pi with. A case is an issue, but in conjunction with a resistant materials lesson, a case can be made very cheap... SD cards in bulk are cheap....

All your concerns over the Pi are real issues I agree... but as a brand new product, it will have issues. The original release was supposed to be a developers release,,, 10,000 units... a public beta test if you like.. but it go hijacked my mass enthusiasm, and where further development of the product was needed for a full public release, this got placed on the back burners while demand was satisfied.. now there is a revision of the pi available, fixing many of the issues.. all except the main one..... the original launch of the pi WAS NOT supposed to be a final retail product ready for the classroom. the original 10k was supposed to be for developers to get a suite of software ready for a full public launch. That has gone by the way now and the pi is near enough going to be in the hands of people developing products or projects. It makes a awesome media centre, perfect for projects that need a small portable pc.. as a classroom tool... it may very well fail...

.

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Headmaster

Lack of imagination and costing skills

"You have to buy cases, SD cards, highly-regulated power supplies, plus something for it to plug into (like a monitor for a start). You have to buy cases, SD cards, highly-regulated power supplies, plus something for it to plug into (like a monitor for a start). PER DEVICE"

Getting the sarcastic coment out of the way first. PER DEVICE....Wot like all computers you mean?

Moving on. "You have to buy cases". Er no you do not, but if you feel you must use a case, why not set it as a task for woodworking or metalworking (or materials technology or whatever high faluting name it is called these days). Or why not set it as homework for each child to design a case out of lego.

And then onto the REALLY expensive peripherals.

SD cards. £2.00 per 2Gbit. And thats without bulk discount.

highly-regulated power supplies. £2.50

Display. Yes, more expensive, but have you considered a letter to parents/local companies asking for donations of old unused monitors with RGB inputs and buying HDMI to RGB converters at £3.50 each?

There you are, everything you need for .....wait for it....£8 PER DEVICE.

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Re: Lack of imagination and costing skills

Moving on. "You have to buy cases". Er no you do not, but if you feel you must use a case, why not set it as a task for woodworking or metalworking (or materials technology or whatever high faluting name it is called these days). Or why not set it as homework for each child to design a case out of lego.

Is this some sort of joke? If you didn't put them in cases, they'd all be broken within 2 weeks. You couldn't possibly have the kids make cases out of wood or metal for them - that would be 3 terms of work, only 10% would actually function correctly, and most schools have no CDT provision.

Lego is possible, but the thing with lego is you can disassemble and reassemble as required, so see earlier statement about breakage.

In fact, your entire post is largely bollocks. You've sorted the display problems by sourcing a load of second hand CRT monitors and forking out for HDMI->RGB adapters. Never mind that no-one has stacks of CRT monitors sitting around waiting for someone to say "Oh, on the off chance, do you have 30 spare 19" CRTs I can have?", you've completely missed where the actual cost is - where the fuck are you going to put all these monitors?

You've brought the per-seat cost down to £25+8, but neglected to include the cost of building a new ICT suite. Which is significantly more than £8 per seat.

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Re: @Lee Dowling

In the run up to The Big Announcement, we were repeatedly told that 10,000 Pis had been made and were on their way to the UK. Then the Big Announcement came, and it was that they would (only) be available from two distributors. Which was good, except that those 10,000 on their way turned out not to have been made yet. Then there were the frankly bizarre claims about the import duty on components vs completed Pis.

Anyway, back to production figures. 4,000 per week in one of three factories, 12,000 per week, maybe. 624,000 per year ... that's a heck of a ramp up if you hope to have flogged a million only six months after mass production started.

Oh well. We'll see. When the design has stabilised (these are still the pre-production prototypes, right, and the proper education one is still due out, erm, two months ago, right?) I'll probably buy a couple.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @Lee Dowling

"these are still the pre-production prototypes, right, and the proper education one is still due out, erm, two months ago, right?"

No, they're already on Revision 2 of the production board. The "Education Release" is going to be focused on software stacks, educational materials, peripherals (including, yes, cases!) and other bits and bobs that can turn the Pi from a currently fairly niche device into a serious teaching tool with mass market appeal.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @Lee Dowling

Hey look! it's the raspberry pi foundation's shill doing the rounds again!

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Re: @Lee Dowling

The latest boards do not include my board. I would have to buy again. That makes early adopters, second-hand boards, and even boards from an unofficial supplier, a lottery. Ignoring that, I don't *have* power problems, because the second I noticed the specs I put it on a supply that gives a regulated 5v, 10A if necessary. But others still will because it's not about just a small tweak to fix all power problems - the board has too little voltage regulation and relies on the (not necessarily supplied or approved) adaptor to provide it. And worse than not working, it is more likely to die under load while otherwise appearing normal.

And these are not teething troubles (and if they were, my "teething" on the device was months ago now). The latest kernel does not fix the USB problems. It skirts around them by playing with interrupt rates and the SD card controller so they are not as swamped (in fact, there's little code change in terms of C code, you're just scaling back the options sent to the controller on initialisation - this "fix" was previously available as a kernel command-line option though I believe the defaults are just changed now). I, and a whole forum thread since the day of release, still have demonstrable problems with USB on simple devices. Basically, you have to sacrifice USB and SD performance to make the thing work reliably and with heavy USB bus usage you can't always sacrifice enough to make things work. And it took months of flat-out whinging to get the problem recognised and partially resolved against a background of reproducibility and wanting to fix the problem myself. The problem is not the problem, the problem was the complete lack of testing and a bad design and, up to a point, total denial and ignorance of the problem (the initial thread reporting USB problems went unanswered for months, the kernel git "issue" tracked the same, etc.). With the early adopters, testers, and people who were trying to put this device into schools and get it doing what it should do trying to help. Same with SD card problems (though that's resolved in the same way as, and was basically caused by, the same problem!). Same with training material problems.

Supply issues? Agree. Pretty much sorted. Discounting the "what version of the board have I got" question, but you can get them from all sorts of places now. Good for my casings, I'll give you that, because there are much cheaper options available now. P.S. schools, generally, shouldn't be using the devices uncased and it won't be long before some H&S fanatic picks up on that, especially if you have to have a hefty PSU to keep the power stable.

I have one, ordered before I even knew they would ever exist for real, so I was in support of the project and the ideals behind. I was basically intending to push it inside my school and get them to buy dozens, if not more, and teach "real" programming for once. But since release it's barely become nothing more than pushing hardware into schools with no thought, which is my main complaint in this thread (see: iPads in schools, too - great idea, with correct use, completely misguided to just assume schools won't just buy them and expect them to do what they read about automatically). There is no material, no training, little staff involvement, which is what I had threads about on the forums before the thing was even released. The usual answer was "we'll worry about that later", and there still hasn't been much movement in that way.

There *are* still problems. You are still going to get people plug in a USB thing and have it die mid-lesson because of power / bus bandwidth / interrupt rate problems that you can't fix (and which are down to a shoddy design of that section, but hey, that happens everywhere). It's pretending that the thing is perfect and works that gets me, and silently ignoring problems until they become major issues attracting exactly my sorts of comments on them (bad PR if nothing else).

I will be visiting BETT in the New Year. My guess is that if I even find a Raspberry Pi stall on there, it will be run by some educational supplier - because selling the hardware is one thing. There won't be training on it, which means it's dead in the water. Claiming that it's aimed at education, receiving government and media attention by claiming that, and then not doing anything to put them into schools beyond selling a board is another.

To be honest, I was prepared to buy a dozen or more and run my own lunchtime club in the school I work for - purely because I would love teaching programming. I've done it before for maths clubs in other schools and I'm not even a QT. Not a chance since I bought the device, that I still own (and still hope to get working for personal projects some day). And if I was to be given money to do so, I'd base it off something else now anyway. It's not the product but the attitude to fixes and genuine, real-world concerns about exactly how the product is pushed that worry me. Hell, when resolved the SD problems, I was basically told that the people in the UK had no idea how the drivers worked and it was only the Broadcom employee in Taiwan that would be able to hack on the SD driver to spot any differences, and that only in his spare time, and that only when granted by Broadcom. Pretty much the same answers hit for things related to the GPU ("the first completely open-source drivers" and such headlines, for an OpenGL -> RPC call wrapper? Again, that's just not true and headline-garnering at the expense of the truth).

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Lee Dowling: "And I can't justify my own purchase of a RPi" - Can I ask what you specifically had in store for your Pi when you purchased it?

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Re: Lack of imagination and costing skills

Is there a published, concrete cost, for someone to purchase the RPi if they have no computer equipment, cables and power supplies already?

I attempted to get this information from the RPi forum when they first started shipping because their web site quoted US dollars, which was all a bit suspicious really. Why not quote in pounds since they were hyping the thing as a UK gadget. Alas, I was accused of being a troll :-) I just wanted a price as a UK customer but they were immediately defensive ... JUST TELL ME HOW MUCH IT'S GOING TO COST ... blimey!

Then, take into account the fragility of the thing and the alternative becomes much more rational.

Cheap laptop. No additional monitor, keyboard, mouse or nest-of-cables required. Get one without an OS and you pay about £250. (ebuyer [not ebay], amazon [even ebay], argos) Install Linux and suddenly people have all the programming tools they could ever need for free, including all the stuff referenced in the article. Oh and it's useful for other computer relating things too.

After a week, when the RPi crumbles, gets sat on and/or chewed by the pet, you will prolly never buy another one and look at all the other stuff you had to buy to make it work, is now junk. Whereas a laptop will fill your life with light and absorb all negative emotions and ensure the favour of the Gods.

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Slightly missing the point

It's quite right that schools may not need the PI, in that they have PCs which can do the job equally well. But the point is that they do need the debate and attention that the PI has generated, as an opening to show that the subject is there (that there's more to computers than games and Word/Excel/PowerPoint) and to show that there are things that people can do themselves.

After all, yes you can do a number of things on PCs that you can do on PIs, but up until the PI came about and brought the whole thing into the public eye those things weren't being done on PCs in schools (for the most part - I would happily except any school forward-thinking enough to be doing so).

I compare what my kids have access to now (a reasonably powerful PC each in their "ICT labs" at school) to what we had when I was their age (a couple of BBC Micros between a class of 30 or so) and see so much more potential of what could be done if they were used not only as information gateways and M$ Office boxes but also for lower level creation and coding.

So yes the PI isn't the be-all-and-end-all vital component that all kids need to have thrust into their grubby mits, but it is the source of discussion and window on what could be done already which the subject desperately needed.

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Anonymous Coward

Forget Raspberry pi

And just start with something simple like teaching windows and Linux equally so we can break the monopoly Microsoft holds still. It has to start with the kids. Once you've done that, by all means look at programming.

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Unhappy

Re: Forget Raspberry pi

I think it's a more extreme version of that kind of attitude that got us to where (we are told) we are today. By all means lets include Linux, but we need to do more that teach our children how to consume software. It isn't practical to teach children how to write MS-Office (or Halo 99/GTA 74 etc) so we just teach them how to use it. Okay for lesson one or two, but surely only a very small part or what we should teach.

I'm not saying we need every child to become the ideal candidate for a Google Engineer role, but teaching them basic programming is useful on many levels - not just for an IT workforce, but to develop logical, methodical thinking and the ability to break 'big' problems into smaller ones for example.

To get back on topic, the pi may not be perfect for use as a school's main teaching computer(s), virtualise it with pleasure, but that allows the project work to be taken away and virtualised at home (possibly) OR run on a pi perhaps? Surely on a national scale we could get cases/power supplies and peripherals purchased cheaply enough to be loaned or sold/subsidised. We managed to give away plenty of laptops - some of which turned up on Ebay I seem to recall.

So I certainly don't think the pi's a panacea, but I believe we certainly need to teach some basic programming along side the 'office studies' that masquerades as computing.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Forget Raspberry pi

'Breaking the monopoly' by not teaching Microsoft.

My schools computer labs were full of Archimedes. All our ICT work was effectively pointless because pc's were ubiquitous; we just learned the quirks of risc os / whatever word processor it was they had on there.

By all means it's a handy extraneous skill to learn, but teaching kids linux won't change the ways of the slow-moving enterprise.

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Re: Forget Raspberry pi

"the ability to break 'big' problems into smaller ones for example." Oh, the joys of Lisp!

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We really do need to get the kids into programming languages at an early age, but programming languages for the web. But that's not all, we need a system that will allow them to bring any ideas they have to fruition, that way (eventually) we'll hopefully have a British Facebook, Google, Twitter and such instead of the Americans bringing out all these multi-billion dollar properties.

Learning to program apps is fine, but if a kid has an idea about an amazing web service but is unable to bring it to light because they can't program or (worse) can't find a backer for their idea then they will most likely give up and the idea will eventually find its way to a person who can program and does have backing and is going to be in another country.

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No, no and thrice no!

We do not need them learning "web programming", we need them learning how the systems and languages that support the web and all the associated infrastructure. Teaching them web programming is no better than teaching them Excel; we need them to be able to write their own operating systems, write their own web-based languages, etc...

Plus financial success isn't the only reward for learning to do something; believe it or not, some people, even those who left school over a decade ago (or several decades ago), actually enjoy learning something new just to learn something new.

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@blcollier

Are you really suggesting we should be teaching school children how to program an OS?

Firstly, every software engineer has to start somewhere and "web programming" is a relatively simple and appealing place to start.

Secondly, for every person who works on the infrastructure side of things there are 10’s if not 100’s of people programming with that infrastructure.

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