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 …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    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.

    1. keithpeter
      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.

    2. Pete 2

      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.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        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?

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          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.

          1. paulc
            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...

          2. Anonymous C0ward
            Gimp

            Re: I am Legend of Coders!

            And where do they make iPads...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        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.

        1. Anonymous C0ward

          And does their code

          metaphorically resemble an Italian foodstuff often served with meatballs?

    3. Mips
      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).

  2. Christian Berger Silver badge

    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.

    1. Chemist

      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.

  3. Dr_N Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    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.

    1. The BigYin

      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).

    2. hplasm Silver badge
      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.

      1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

        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.

    3. ridley

      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.

      1. AndrueC Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        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.

        1. David Ireland

          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.

  4. Lee Dowling Silver badge

    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.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      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).

      1. Lee Dowling Silver badge

        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.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          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.

        2. elaar

          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?

      2. James Hughes 1

        @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!

        1. Ian Johnston
          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.

          1. James Hughes 1

            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.

            1. Ian Johnston

              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 ...

              1. James Hughes 1

                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....

                1. Ian Johnston
                  Thumb Up

                  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.

                  1. Anonymous Coward
                    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.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @Lee Dowling

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

        3. Lee Dowling Silver badge

          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).

      3. Leona A
        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

    2. The BigYin

      "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.

    3. heyrick Silver badge

      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?

      1. Chika

        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.

    4. Dr. Mouse Silver badge

      "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.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      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...

      .

    6. peter 45
      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.

      1. Tom 38 Silver badge

        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.

        1. tuxtester

          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.

  5. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

    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.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    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.

    1. John Hadfield
      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.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        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.

      2. Michael Dunn
        Thumb Up

        Re: Forget Raspberry pi

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

  7. David Webb

    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.

    1. blcollier

      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.

      1. Tom Parsons

        @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.

        1. blcollier

          Re: @blcollier

          Taking things a little bit too literally, perhaps? Or did you somehow think that I intended to slight those whose occupation is web technologies or web programming?

          No, I am not suggesting that we teach our 10-year olds how to write an operating system. Nor am I say that we should ignore web technologies. What I am saying is that the skills being taught need to be more funadmental: memory management, algorithms, object-oriented approaches, etc. Of course I am also not suggesting that we hand the virtual "shotgun pointed at your feet" that is C++ or assembly language to a class of schoolchildren. Web programming is indeed an easy place to start, and it can be easily translated into what people see every day: Facebook, Google, etc. What I am saying however is that they need to understand the basic fundamentals of hardware and software. Once you learn fundamental programming skills, you can apply that to almost any programming language you choose. Hardware is a bit more tricky, but pretty much any "computer" these days still has the basic building blocks (CPU, GPU, memory controller, buses, I/O, etc).

          I am saying that we should be teaching broad fundamental skills, and not specifically focussing on narrow areas - such as web programming or using MS Office. Sure they can be a good starting point start - much the same way that Scratch is a very good starting point - but that shouldn't be the end of the story.

        2. Dan 55 Silver badge
          Windows

          Re: @blcollier

          Nice idea (everyone's got a JavaScript interpreter in their browser) but not good in practice, JavaScript is loosely typed, is interpreted too differently between browsers, and the OO can be usable if you know what you're doing otherwise it's just a mess, even the scope of functions and variables is messy. It's got the same problem as PHP, the language is hacked together and you need to already know what you're doing in order to do it.

          Perhaps I'm showing my age, but you'd want something like BASIC, Pascal, or Logo for the older ones and Scratch or KPL for the younger ones.

        3. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: @Tom Parsons

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

          Actually yes - http://www.raspberrypi.org/archives/1913

          What's more important is teaching them that an OS is just a bit of software written by normal people. And that a computer isn't a magic box. Then the next time a home secretary announces a new computer security system that will decide who is guilty automatically - there might be some public skepticism.

          It's the same for other subjects. Do most students need to know the difference between 'S' and 'P' orbitals? No, but they should know that Daily Mail headlines of "OMG chemicals in our food" can just mean water. Some idea about statistics and the range and effects of microwaves might also be useful.

        4. Mike 125

          Re: @blcollier

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

          If he's not, I certainly am. The point about the Pi is that a few hundred lines of bare-metal code can make it flash an LED, beep a speaker, detect a finger, detect a light source etc etc. And that is where it all starts for kids. On that simple beginning everything else can stand. Over a number of school years, a complete school OS could be built, and the relevant hardcore Computer Science introduced as appropriate. That's how to teach computing.

          We have forgotten that an "OS" can be simple and elegant. Of course, any single board computer could have fulfilled this role equally at any time over the last 20 years.The noise and b'llsh't of the likes of corporate MS have perverted what happens in schools. (And for balance, Linux is far too large and complex to play any part of early school learning. These are tools.)

    2. heyrick Silver badge

      "but programming languages for the web"

      Why? I taught myself BASIC on a Beeb, got a semi-formal introduction to Pascal at college, which contained principles (modularity, scope, etc) that I took over to C when I taught myself that. I learned VisualBasic because it was a simple way to get results. I wanted to write my own flat-file blog software (didn't have SQL access) so I learned PHP and wrote it.

      Or, to look at it from a different direction, when I first started out with Internet stuff, writing server extensions was a script or C program called from cgi or cgi-bin. Then along came PHP. Now sites are using Ruby due to the various inadequacies of PHP. I bet if you took any random eight year old and brought them up to speed on Ruby or such, it'll be three languages out of date by the time that child leaves school.

      Would it not be better to teach children to program generically? You could start them with something like Scratch to demonstrate the possibilities of what programming can offer. You then progress them on BBC BASIC and introduce the concept of functions and procedures, and the idea of having code libraries (this is why I specify BBC BASIC, not an inferior one that is a tangle of GOSUB calls). Once they get better, you to introduce them to C which is like BASIC with oomph (certainly writing a direct port of something complex will highlight the difference between interpreted and compiled). C allows a lot more creativity but contains many more pitfalls - however it is a solid real-world language. Your operating system's kernel is probably written in C, as would be a large chunk of the software in your machine.

      With this basis in how to think like a programmer and how to break a problem down into chunks, and how to do stuff like sanitising inputs and code re-use/sharing, the child (probably a teenager by then) will be ready to think about how to program for the Web.

      Because I sure as hell wouldn't want somebody without the groundwork to be let loose on the Internet. There's already enough shitty code and 0-day flaws that we really really don't need any more.

      "instead of the Americans bringing out all these multi-billion dollar properties."

      I would be inclined to say this is possibly more psychological than technological. Sure, it is a rough generalisation that Americans get all freaked out over SATs and Brits get freaked out over celebrity gossip; but perhaps it runs deeper in that a person with a good idea has a much higher barrier to acceptance/funding than in America? Then again, watch Dragon's Den some time, maybe over this side of the ocean we just don't appreciate suckers? I mean, there's an online thingy I read that was always going on about (quote) The Kids Of Instagram (unquote) so I eventually looked up Instagram. I'm afraid my first thought was "that's it?". Maybe it could have been me making millions and getting bought out for silly money? I'd first have have to have realised that this was in fact a viable proposition in the first place! Nothing to do with coding skills, a lot to do with psychology. So perhaps teaching children to program "because Americans make all the money" is really the wrong way to approach this?

  8. The BigYin

    It's not the coding or even the RasPi

    It's the everything. It's removing the fear of tinerking, investigating and trying new things. It's encouraging thought, analysis, design, and engineering. This used to be the province of Meccano, Lego etc (both now dumbed down to hell).

    To do this you don't actually need a RasPi, but you need something free, open and cheap enough that if you do happen to break it; it's not the end of the world. You simply cannot do that on a desktop PC with restricted boot and a restricted operating system.

    All that does is produce push-button clones who thing "Google" is the Internet and that Excel is a good database.

    1. Ian Johnston
      Thumb Down

      Re: It's not the coding or even the RasPi

      Of course you can do it on a desktop machine. Install VirtualBox (or equivalent of your choice), install OS to it, do your worst.

      1. The BigYin

        Re: It's not the coding or even the RasPi

        Of course you can't d it on a desktop machine. You going to let kids plug whatever bollocks they've just soldered together to an expensive desktop PC. Yeah...right...

        1. Ian Johnston
          Thumb Down

          Re: It's not the coding or even the RasPi

          I thought we were talking about programming lessons, not practical electronics. How much school IT teaching involves physical construction of peripherals? Anyway, there are plenty of interface boards available for PCs.

          1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
            Happy

            Re: It's not the coding or even the RasPi

            Understanding the inter-relationship between software and hardware is even more important than just the software (or hardware), and the people I know who can bridge that gap are relatively few. Hopefully fiddling with a RasPi will help redress the balance.

          2. Vic

            Re: It's not the coding or even the RasPi

            > How much school IT teaching involves physical construction of peripherals?

            Not enough.

            Vic.

  9. jb99

    Well

    Not everyone needs to be a coder but everyone should have an understanding of what they do. It's really important. And enough people need to program things, that everyone should have the chance to learn.

  10. David Pollard

    Remember the physical sciences too

    Only a curmudgeon would fail to be excited by the educational potential that Pi could provide. But besides ironing out the bugs and making it reliable, more could be done. It's not just the computer that's needed in education it's the peripherals. In particular it's peripherals that measure.

    What I have in mind is things like temperature, pH, force, illumination, blood pressure and oxygenation, water level, conductivity ... and perhaps a microscope, a thermal imager and a telescope.

    The Pi's innovators have managed not only to bring this hardware to market, it is affordable and made in the UK. Hopefully other boffins and their employers will bring their expertise to bear and produce a range of add-ons to turn the Pi, or other computers into scientific instruments to help generate the expertise our future will demand,

    There's an opportunity here to provide a similar boost in schools to the physical and biological sciences.

    1. David Cox
      FAIL

      Re: Remember the physical sciences too

      This sort of thing has been available in schools for decades. Just go to the TTS website and look up "log Box" and Pulse Recorder. The older version plugged in via the serial port, but newer one use USB. Most come with temperature and sound monitoring sensor built in now (you had to buy those separately in the old days), and come with simple windows-friendly software to download and manipulate the data.

      The problem is, that schools buy this kit by the bucket-load (I have personally seen at least 5 schools in my county with 20+kits in the storecupboard gathering dust), then do nothing with it. Sure, there are the odd teacher who understands how to do a stop-motion of decaying fruit usding a webcam, or can use pivot stick to teach simple computer animation, but most teachers just can't be arsed to learn how to use it (or, worse still in my eyes, don't have the natural curiosity to learn).

      My solution, teach the teachers and then make ICT teaching part of an OFSTED inspection - only once it affects a schools OFSTED ranking will they care about it!!!!!

      1. David Pollard

        Re: Remember the physical sciences too

        While I wouldn't for a moment deny that the most important thing is to have well-motivated teachers, the log-box with temperature, sound and light sensors costs over £100; and presumably comes with proprietary software. As with the market for educational books, it's hard to see this as other than something of a stitch-up.

        On Amazon it's possible to buy an ultrasonic distance sensor for £6.48; or complete with an Arduino for under £20. Coupled with open source software, this represents an order of magnitude change.

  11. blcollier

    Some good points, but not that many...

    One of the main aims of the foundation was to change the way that "IT" is taught in schools, so that it is more focussed on computer science fundamentals than how to do spreadsheets in Excel or godawful WordArt in PowerPoint. You could argue that the changed stance on IT education by the government has already gone some way to achieving this. That's great, especially if schools can already meet this without having to shell out for new kit. The Pi itself addresses the problem of not having almost disposably-cheap computer hardware with which children can knock around with and experiment - as opposed to an in-excess-of-£300 desktop PC which their parents don't want them screwing up - so it doesn't have to be solely restricted to being used in schools.

    And I completely disagree with the article's point that it would involve faffing about with plugging/unplugging cables at the start/end of each lesson, or that using them in schools would be impractical. These things don't have to be removable; just mount them under the desk or to the back of the monitor using VESA mounts. Problems with SD cards can be easily solved with network booting; once you've got the basic stuff booted (GPU blob, etc), the rest of the OS can in theory be booted from a clean network image on that can't be modified. Out of all the crappy old SD/MicroSD cards I've got knocking around, I have so far failed to find one which cannot boot the basic stuff (my day-to-day tinkering distro is on a USB drive, only the boot partition remains on the SD card). Give each child/user an allocated amount of space for their /home/$user share, stored on the network and not locally, and everything else is read-only. Of course this is a little more involved than plugging in a few Windows boxes, but any IT tech worth their salt should be able to do enough research to set this up; they shouldn't be in the job if they can't.

    Plus I fail to see how it would be more expensive to kit out a room full of Pis compared to the cost of a full-blown desktop computer, as many commenters (not just those here) like to claim. You cannot tell me that a desktop computer - even a low-powered one - can be bought for less than the cost of a Pi (£25) + case (~£12) + small SD card (~£5-£10), even with educational discounts. Mice and keyboards are dirt cheap, even moreso for those that buy in bulk. Granted that the HDMI-only monitor connection will be a little tricky for the spare old monitors you've got knocking about, but you can't get a $35 computer without compromising somewhere.

    And, by the way, using the term "geek children" or "geek dads" (or even "geek mums") doesn't exactly do anything to help anyone's cause here. As if kids needed another label which can be used to single them out as a target for bullying... Is there really anything wrong with wanting to know more about the technology which is so fundamental to our society? Just because someone might be interested in technology or programming doesn't make them a geek; it just makes them a person that's interested in technology or programming.

    1. Ian Johnston
      Thumb Down

      Re: Some good points, but not that many...

      The idea of leaving the Pis set up all the time is fine as long as either (a) you can afford an additional DVI/HDMI monitor + keyboard + mouse for every Pi or (b) you are planning to decommision and existing computer for every Pi.

      Neither of these is much of a solution. (a) costs you a fortune and (b) gives you precisely the same inflexibility by now but with extremely low powered machines (good luck running Labview, Matlab or an decent office suite on a Pi).

      1. James Hughes 1

        Re: Some good points, but not that many...

        The monitor is the expensive bit - use an HDMI switch (<£10)? Or monitors with TWO hdmi inputs (or HDMI/DVI) you can switch between. Needs a bit more up front investment of course. Or use the Raspi's composite out.

        Keyboards and mice are two a penny, but again, a KV switch would work. Or, two sets, and run the Pi headless over X. Complicated, but worth teaching...

        There are always solutions if you look a little past the obvious.

      2. blcollier

        @Ian Johnston

        *sigh*...

        Like many others, I think you're missing my point. Granted the point about HDMI monitors stands - a point I believe I made - but it doesn't mean that you need a 27" Apple Cinema Display monster on every desk either. Most monitors available in the last 5 years or so all support DVI inputs, and digital DVI is pin-compatible with HDMI; it just needs a £2 converter, and it's exactly how I use my Pi.

        The Pi isn't necessarily going to be useful for those schools who can already afford, or already have, "ICT" labs full of reasonably-spec'ed kit. It is however going to be an option for schools that can't afford to spend a fortune on updating their old shoddy equipment in order to be able to actually teach this wonderful new IT curriculum. Let's just do some maths, based on current retail prices, just for the hell of it...

        Cheapest DVI monitor I can find on Novatech: £75 ea., or £2250 for 30 of them

        Cheap USB keyboard/mouse combo (also Novatech): £9.98 ea., £299.40 for 30x

        30x cheap (~£5) SD Cards: £150

        30x cases (~£12): £360

        30x Pis (~£25): £750

        30x HDMI to DVI adaptors: £60

        OR

        Cheapest desktop I can find on Novatech: £239.99 ea., £7199.70 for 30x

        So that's £3659.40 for the Pi-based solution, or £9449.70 for the traditional desktop (which won't need separate cases, SD cards or KB + mouse). Of course these are retail prices and schools can get serious educational discounts, but my point stands.

        It isn't for everyone and it was never going to be for everyone. But it could be a seriously big help for those - individuals, schools, businesses, etc - who can't afford to shell out for a full desktop machine. I think people - especially those reading a tech news site - need to remember that not everyone is as privileged as they are/were when it comes to technology. Not necessarily everyone had a good school with great IT education or had parents who could afford to buy gadgets/computers for them.

      3. Gordon 8
        Megaphone

        Re: Some good points, but not that many...

        Many newer monitors have more than 1 input, and often HDMI. All you then have to do is switch inputs.

        Yes, I know it means older monitors don't cut it, but the point of the PI is to have something that you can play with, you can take a risk with home made add ons because it is not worth several hundred pounds.....

        I have purchased a case, but plan to try to modify my Lego X-Wing to take the PI. If it will not fit in that it damn well will fit in the Falcon I have or the SSD kit (that I want for Christmas)

        (SSD in this case Super Star Destroyer)

        It's all about fun. I have a ZX81, and recently showed it to the daughter of a friend who is interested in techie stuff. she was surprised at how unlike what she knows computers as it was. Yet she wanted to play with it and learn!

        We need to get kid away from Halo & Facebook and back to learning, and the Pi is one way to do that. It's not perfect and not the only way to do the job, but if it get's some kids interested in the nuts and bolts of hardware and software then it has succeeded in my book....

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Some good points, but not that many...

      Amazon are selling a monitor with DVI input for just over £80, HDMI to DVI cable is £3, mouse and keyboard can be had for £15 so you could build a complete PI based system for under £150.

      I don't mind being called a geek, just don't call me a nerd.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Some good points, but not that many...

        HDMI -> DVI

        And I have an old Apple DVI -> VGA adaptor from a G4 mini.

        Any monitor from the last 15 years is then usable, even landfill CRTs.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Some good points, but not that many...

          DVI-VGA adaters only work for DVI-A where there are VGA signals are on the spare DVI pins. The RPi doesn't have any VGA signal hardware on board.

          VGA is an analogue signal and needs real power electronics, DACs and amplifiers unlike purely digital DVI/HDMI

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Some good points, but not that many...

      "I'm not a geek, I'm a technology enthusiast."

      "I'm not a trainspotter, I'm a railway enthusiast."

      Tomato, tomato (that doesn't work written down).

  12. JDX Gold badge

    It's a cool little device and for use in science projects (like balloons etc) is wonderful.

    But as a way to teach the basics of programming, well schools are CRAMMED with computers. And it's trivial to put on something like LOGO or BASIC, you can even find web-sites which will let you do it with no need to install anything.

    So for pure programming the Pi serves only as a publicity tool to get people interested. I guess that's a good enough result - if all it serves is to get people coding on Windows it's still great. But it's real strength comes when it's used to interact with something in a way a PC can't.

  13. Valeyard
    Terminator

    Stuff adults don't think of

    There are a lot of things adults don't even consider when talking about the pi, which kids would notice straight away, such as the aesthetics

    A PC is "normal" now, it's nothing too special. Their parents have one and it's probably always been a familiar fixture of the house with no curiosity about it. back in primary school our single bbc micro was a thing of awe cos it was unusual and high-tech. Similarly a pi is a circuit board with wires sticking out of it everywhere. Young kids love that shit, it's all futurey and makes them feel like they're doing mad scientist stuff. (10 print hello 20 go to 10 wouldn't impress an adult but remember how smart and inspired you felt when you were a kid running that).

    It doesnt have to teach a kid to be an awesome coder, just to inspire them to roleplay as an evil genius for a few hours, I didn't get beyond the repeating text on my spectrum but it definitely planted the seeds for my dev career now.

    1. ukgnome

      Re: Stuff adults don't think of

      "Similarly a pi is a circuit board with wires sticking out of it everywhere. Young kids love that shit"

      Couldn't agree more - although I now have to take apart all manner of gadgets - although that's no bad thing.

      1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

        Re: Stuff adults don't think of

        And it's actually quite telling that the first thing many people want to do (including many of the fellow commentators here) is put the thing in a case...

        1. Anonymous C0ward

          Re: Stuff adults don't think of

          Don't get a case as such, get SK Pang's "Cover with Breadboard Area".

  14. Ian Johnston
    Thumb Down

    What's the point?

    What advantages is a classroom full of Pis supposed to have over a classroom full of PCs running virtual machines? I can see the point of a small, lightweight, mobile computer for robotics and the like (I've built around 850 programmable robots from components with school children) but the Pi isn't much good for that as it has no useful sensor/motor IO.

    The joy of programming the Spectrum, PET, Oric Atmos (BANG!) or BBC was that it couldn't do anything, really, unless you asked it do. That "duck" wobbling unsteadily across the top the screen was your creation, as were the "bullets" which occasionally hit it. But on a Pi .... we'll how inspiring is it to children who don't already find programming fun to create simple, slow text-mode stuff in the middle of a rich graphical UI? All it's likely to to do is confirm the impression that computers are hopelessly complicated. It's like hoping to make automotive engineering accessible by building soap-box go-carts with kids.

    1. James Hughes 1

      Re: What's the point?

      Well, a few that come to mind are:

      Easy transferral of student efforts from school to home using the SD card.

      Cheaper cost for low income students so they can indeed have one at home.

      Access to simple GPIO (yes, you do have it)

      Easier maintenance, though that might be debatable.

      More fun factor - It's a PCB, with wires and stuff! Some children love that sort of thing.

      Big support base.

      As to your comment on slow text mode stuff...it runs Scratch fairly well (will get better as optimisations are completed), which is a great intro to logical sequencing and gets children interested. Even my 7 year old finds it fun.

      1. Ian Johnston

        Re: What's the point?

        I have no doubt that something like the Pi could have great potential for schools, though I'd see it more in the CDT/Mechatronics side than in computing if GPIO depended less on homebrewed electronics or vapourware addon boards. Scratch, after all (I like Scratch) runs on OS/X, Windows and Ubuntu on "real" PCs.

        1. James Hughes 1

          Re: What's the point?

          Vapourware? Please expand.

          1. blcollier

            Re: What's the point?

            Agreed. I see nothing "vapourware" in the Gertboard or any other commercially-available GPIO expander/interface kits. "Difficult to get hold of" or "in short supply" does not equal "vapourware". Many, including myself, said that the Pi itself was vapourware, yet here we are with over half a million sold and one of the first batch of 10,000 units on my desk.

            Besides, using the term "homebrewed" as a perjorative term really completely misses the point of having the GPIO in the first place: being able to wire it up to something you built yourself and control it with code that you wrote yourself - doesn't that neatly cover the term "homebrewed"?

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What are we teaching?

    Where are the skill sets to introduce a kid to computers? Our IT classes were a joke and I learned more by helping out the technician diagnosing and fixing the systems. This was the technician allowing me to help instead of the school allowing real skills to be taught. Kids can download and install a wide range of software and viruses but have no clue to look after a system.

    How do you plug the computer in? Protect a computer? What do the insides even look like? What can it do? How can you go about doing anything?

    A lot of the adults have no idea and that is fine, the children are the ones in education. You teach them and they teach the adults.

    Computers rule our lives. Most jobs require a computer and most benefit from the computer. But the magic box in the corner needs people with knowledge even if they dont want IT as a career.

    I think kids dont get a broad enough exposure to IT. Until college I thought programming was all maths (and I didnt want to do that every day). How can children decide what they want to do when they have a very limited and utterly clueless introduction to anything other than basic english, math and science. This isnt about programming, its about innovating and learning new skills.

    Or you can leave the kids with an outdated version of windows with a clueless teacher and no real technical knowledge beyond their smartphone.

  16. The Serpent

    I agree that the RPi was always dubious as an education tool, I think the only real reason for aligning it that way was that if you hang a product or idea on the education hook then no one will dare to say you are wrong for fear they end up being perceived as stifling learning, etc.

    I too have had grief from various places for saying that very old computers could be put to the same tasks with better results and that programming skills do not replace user acceptance.

    The real thing the Raspberry Pi has done is to provide an object lesson to the computing industry that a small team can produce a very cheaper computing device which is good enough to meet the requirements of the vast majority of the PC owning public and that just as the days of spending thousands on a new computer fell to spending only hundreds, the days when that figure drops to tens of pounds/dollars/euro/shekels/dong are nearly upon us. Which of course has got all the big manufacturers stuffing their fingers in their ears instead of rushing to get a properly sorted product to market first.

    The only other thing I can think of for pushing the RPi is that once it, or devices like it, become the equivalent of today's desktop market, it puts the UK in a strong position not only as a source of expertise in ARM environments but also as the base of the only company that could seriously put Intel's nose out of joint.

    1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

      It shouldn't be labelled an education tool - it should be an inspiration tool...

  17. Tom Parsons
    Go

    No RPi please

    I completely agree with this article. To engage children we should be teaching them to program the applications they see every day. App Inventor is a great example of this, but possibly has a learning curve which is too steep for pre-GCSE classes.

    If I was in charge, I think I’d start with HTML and JavaScript – it runs everywhere, any child with any home computer could work on the project at home and it would engage both “geeks” and creative types. It also takes very little code to see a result.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: No RPi please

      Or Access or Powerpoint, or Word ? I think this is how we got to ICT in the first place.

    2. blcollier
      Facepalm

      Re: No RPi please

      Noooooo!!!

      No no no no no no!!!

      Fundamentals of computer science! How much longer must I bang this drum!

      1. Rubbernuke
        IT Angle

        Re: No RPi please

        Let me assist you in banging that drum-this is what we should be feeding our kids brains in lessons:

        http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/freshers/raspberrypi/tutorials/os/

      2. Anonymous C0ward

        Re: No RPi please

        There's no limit?

    3. Charlie Clark Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Phorward

      You, sir, have just won the coveted Bong! award.

      Rory Clellan-Jones trip to coding school was possibly the nadir of an already ignominious career.

  18. gaz 7
    Pint

    I always thought the point of the Rpi

    was not as a general purpose computer for schools (There are loads of them, and linux could be chucked on most of them and run the same as the Rpi faster),

    but as an easily intefaceable computer that does not cost shedloads to replace when something gets shorted and blows one of the things up.

    The GPIO and the camera I/F makes it superb for that kind of tinkering-about-learning for kids and adults alike. Also as it's cheap you can get several and dedicate them for different projects.

    The one thing it cannot provide is enthusiastic teaching staff though...

    Pint of beer for the guys (and gals) that thought of the Pi and pushed it though to reality

    1. blcollier
      Pint

      Re: I always thought the point of the Rpi

      Have a pint right back, for being one of the few people here who finally gets it.

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: I always thought the point of the Rpi

      The point of the RPi is exactly the same reason we got Apple IIs and then PCs 30years ago.

      You have PCs in your school but you certainly can't let kids install apps or have admin access, in fact you can't let teachers have admin access because the PCs are under a service plan from whatever "Research Machines Ltd" is called today and any changes involve renegotiating their agreement and them charging you 500quid to come out and install virtualbox.

      You couldn't let children learn by fiddling around with the council mainframe we got dialup access to in the 70s so we bought home computers and PCS. Now you can't let them fiddle around with PCs we have under service agreements, so you need single board embedded machines.

  19. ukgnome

    It doesn't matter what device the kids use or are exposed to. Kids love tech, it's a plain fact. And if you can use tech in a creative way then the kids will learn. In a class of 40 you are not going to get 40 coders, but I almost guarantee that you will get 40 users.

    My son (4yo) doesn't always trust me with tech, he thinks i am some sort of dinosaur. Although he does understand that I mend things. (seemingly the impossible, such as jelly or welding metal just by looking at it) but when he saw me connecting the Pi to the TV he was awe struck. The comprehension that such a tiny thing could firstly connect to the TV and then "do things" (his words) - I set the Pi up with a doorbell attachment, and whenever he presses it it plays a random silly noise. Now I realise that this isn't going to change the world, and the bit of programming is lame, but to a 4yo this is super hero territory. Especially as he watched, and asked quite advanced questions about the programming process. It's also great that he wants to press the button to annoy his mum, he is a human debugger. If it goes wrong he reports it to tech support and we fix together. He has already taken the Pi to school to show his class, and has managed to explain what was done, and how it works. (and he never once said it works on witchcraft or magic pixie dust)

    I guess what I am saying is we are giving the kids a chance to be exposed into something that potentially could be great. It may be basic to us adults, and all a bit frivolous but to a 4yo this sort of things could make you a super hero. Lets keep the dreams alive

    1. chrisf1

      I picked up an arduino kit for pretty much the same rationale - i admit that was more an excuse for me to play with one originally - to model things so I could show my four year old models of traffic lights she could poke at in response to the entertaining barrage of how do things work questions. I now have a similar barrage of questions and demands on building in buttons and pots that have her at least introduced to decisions about basic design/control logic by simple interaction such as 'what would you like the button to do and how many do we need'

      Will change to a RPi and Pi-face when its out so can use scratch for control as she gets older.

  20. historymaker118
    Childcatcher

    Why does programming have to be in 'IT' lessons?

    As someone who has recently graduated with a degree in computer science from a top uk university for the subject, and having had these 'IT' (or Microsoft Office) lessons, where I literally spent 8 years of high school and sixth form doing nothing but be taught how to use microsoft office. (oh and we had to use dreamweaver for the web-design module in AS ICT *cringes with pain*) I entered uni with no real experience of programming other than what I had been teaching myself for a couple of years.

    I think we are still looking at this all wrong, I think programming, should be a part not only of IT lessons, but of maths lessons too, and in primary schools, along with addition, multiplication and fractions, children should learn about if then else statements, and a simple programming language like python to do simple tasks.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Why does programming have to be in 'IT' lessons?

      Programming should be the start of maths teaching - definitely

      It gets even worse in a physics degree, you spend 3years learning all the tricks to solve the tiny subset of differential equations that can be solved on a blackboard. You start a Phd and are told - pick Matlab or Mathemtica

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Software Project Failures!!!

    Eighty percent of Software projects fail. Management just covers them up to save embarrassment. Whilst at university I noticed that out of a intake of 500 only 30 could program. Most people just copied off others. I thought this might improve when I joined a Software production company but this was not the case. I was amazed that my colleges were only aware of conditional IF statements and While loops. Using Functions was frowned upon. I didn't even consider making use of object orientated programming or writing polymorphic code since it would have certainly confused them.

    I have now come to the conclusion that since Software production houses are not willing to recruit competent staff some genius must devise of a programming system that even idiots are able to use. Some might argue that MS Access is simple enough for non programmers to use but something even simpler than this is required. The people I used to work with are only able to master something as easy as MS Excel. They often used MS Excel for storing information since Access was too complicated for them to use. If there is a genius out there your help is required!!!

  22. Kev Beeley

    So what's really that different to now from then?

    So, this will 'only interest a small percentage of the schoolchildren' and 'therefore isn't really viable' is only a challenge in these modern times?

    Back in the early 80s home computers were treated by most of those who chose to take any interest as a way of playing games, but everything else the computer could do was readily accessible; nothing was hidden from you if you chose to look any deeper, and some of those who did play games went exploring, usually to try and 'write their own games'. Out of a school of 300, I'd say only 30 or so kids took much interest at computers at school, and maybe 10 for anything other than playing games.

    Now, most computers are treated as devices by to play games or "do something on the net", but everything about the machine is so abstracted that if you do want to look any deeper, you're likely to be out of luck. That same school of 300 would likely have 290 who use computers, but almost zero who have any way of delving beyond that tightly-controlled veneer.

    Sure, the Pi and its ilk would probably not manage to get more than 10 or 20 kids interested in the guts of computers and computing, but even getting it back to the percentage from the early 80s would be a success; Those skills I learned had uses FAR beyond simply programming, so not even providing the tools to offer the chance to find out is a tragedy in itself.

    Microsoft said “Where do you want to go today?”

    In my opinion, that little flashing "K" in the corner of the screen offered far more potential.

  23. andy gibson

    Forget the past

    One thing I see a lot of, particularly on here, is talk of life growing up in the 80s and programming on various computers, which "made" us the people we are today.

    But things have changed spectacularly since that time, there is no evidence that a 21st century equivalent of what we had and did will work today, either with today's youth, or today's teaching practices and skills.

  24. P. Lee Silver badge
    Childcatcher

    Teach Computer Science, not Computer Applications

    Computing isn't for everyone, in the same way that maths A level isn't for everyone. That doesn't mean you shouldn't know something about it.

    Kids tend to pick up things on their own - let them learn word & excel and how to use a tablet in their own time.

    The Pi is more about getting rid of the distractions and capabilities so that the people controlling them can concentrate on doing things themselves. The aim is to teach, not necessarily to achieve. I'm sick of seeing my own kids produce wonderful videos and brochures - its the fancy software that's doing the work. They aren't doing anything more "computery" than playing on a games console.

    I work in IT, but I'd rather they read a book than do that. The Pi helps strip away other people's cleverness and lets the user do things themselves. You could easily do the same with an x86 box, but the temptation to "produce" something and get distracted from the task of exploring and developing thought patterns is usually overwhelming.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Did control technology O-level at school.

    What a great course that was where the main themes where electronics, pneumatics and engineering structures. Rasberry Pi would be great for a course like that. I did a computer controlled burglar alarm using a ZX-81 !

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    meh!

    Raspberry PI will fail in Schools for the following reasons.

    1. IT is corporate Council driven these days, so Schools have less choice. Its all about saving money and buying something with only 1 use is no use. They want desktop PC's/Laptops/Netbooks because multiple schooling disciplines can use them.

    2. Until its boxed up as a proper final product it won't get into Schools, it fails PAT testing, no protective insulation. The first thing a kid will do is drag a metal ruler across the main board and fry it and possibly themselves in the process.

    3. You need to know how to code and the old saying still stands. Those who can, do! Those who can't, teach! Those who can't teach, teach PE.

    1. James Hughes 1

      Re: meh!

      1. Dunno.

      2. Impossible to fry yourself with 5v, but tbh, you can get a case for <£5....

      3. Well done for alienating the entire teaching profession. Muppet.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: meh!

        @James, agreed and quality of teaching seems to have improved considerably comparing my experiences in the 60s to my teenage sons school now. All except for the PE teachers, as hopeless now as 40+ years ago.

  27. andy gibson

    @ "meh"

    1. I've worked in various schools over the past decade and none of them have been "corporate Council driven". Academies are even further removed from council control.

    2. PAT testing isn't always required, especially for new equipment.

    3. No argument there! But I think the current curriculum is partly to blame. The IT teachers I've known have all been well skilled (mainly in software though)

  28. BigAndos

    Raspberry PI really needed?

    I have recently joined the Pi owners club and am in the process of setting it up for use as a media centre. I don't really see what advantage it gives you in terms of learning programming if you already have access to a PC, it is simply a lower cost way of getting started. All schools must have an IT room by now so why is an RPi needed?

    Also, I think it is dangerous to completely abandon the current curriculum. We do need more coders, but we also need everybody to be able to drive Office, understand how OS's work etc. RPis aren't the way to achieve this. The biggest RPi market so far seems to be fully grown techie geeks like me!

    1. John 62

      Re: Raspberry PI really needed?

      I think it's the output pins that are the real benefit. That and being an NXT block on steroids.

  29. Sandtreader

    Horses for Courses

    I'm working with some other schools in Cornwall on developing proper Computer Science / Programming teaching to replace the godawful Office-based GCSE ICT. We're taking a twin-track approach:

    1) Scratch (probably up to year 8) and GreenFoot (year 9 and above) to teach proper programming on existing ICT suites - both can be installed by the ICT tech in a few minutes, and completely free.

    2) Raspberry Pi to enable all kinds of 'physical computing' projects in DT, Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Sports... Probably using only one or two devices for each project, not a classroom full.

    So I agree with the article, I can't see the need for a suite of RPi's lined up in rows, it has far more value as a component for tinkering in the real world. What it has done, though, is lit up the entire debate and pulled things like Scratch and GreenFoot (which have existed quietly for years) into the limelight - all good.

  30. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    capped at around 20 per cent of children

    The number of children who have a sustainable interest in being in school is capped at around 20%

    The whole point of school, of teachers, of classrooms, of curriculums, exams and the barbed wire fences is to keep the other 80% occupied for a day while their parents go to work.

    To say that RPi is unsustainable because only 20% of kids have a lifelong interest says what about all the other subjects? What proportion of children interested in ox-bow lakes do you need to scrap the geography teacher?

  31. mark 63 Silver badge

    10 echo This is boring

    20 echo Let’s go play football / smoke fags

    25 input answer$

    30 if answer$ = "y" then Go to “The Park” else mode = "sulk"

  32. P_0

    The way I see it, education in the UK is geared to heavily towards the Arts in general. This is a general problem that won't be solved by these types of schemes. Decades of children (including myself - to an extent) thinking that reading and analysing novels, using "intellectual" words, is a substitute to a good technical education. Yeah I'm snob if you like.

    But throughout my relatively young adult life, the amount of people I've met who think it means something that they've read Belzac novels or understand Dostievesky's (yeah I can't even spell it) modern meaning etc, means anything in the modern workplace, makes me feel a little disheartened. So you can write wonderful prose? Great. Can you set up a simple email client on your work place PC? No? Shall I do it for you, while you write a poem? Yes, I'm being a little flippant, but I've seen far too many UK graduates think they're "all that" when their so-called skills don't mean anything in a modern company.

    And my point is, it isn't their own fault, to an extent. Our system teaches them disproportionately that quoting Shakespeare etc, is more important than understanding basic trigonometry, circuits, solving equations etc. I remember at my school one day we learned how to wire a plug. That was education, rudimentary, but far more of an education than Media Studies, General Studies etc. I doubt they even do that anymore. Again, yes I'm being an education snob, because that's what we need. Less Arts, more science.

    Now the problem with any scheme such as the one described in the article is that there are very few teachers who know about programming. At least that's my experience. I remember my IT teacher used to read off a sheet about how to use Excel, and some DB program that I have forgotten (no, not Access). And she was actually a graphic design teacher IIRC. Maybe that's changed now, but I doubt it.

    We need a top to bottom cultural reform to get people interested in computers and science. Unfortunately, history shows that British people are particularly averse to learning science. Yes, we have many great scientists past and present. But just look at Babbage for example. He was surrounded by people who though his ideas were implausible. We call them boffins, brainiacs, geeks. We learn to think of them as outsiders. If you're good at science and maths then well done, have fun living on the other side of the geek fence.

    As an addendum, why are there no major UK IT companies? Where's our Google? Microsoft? Apple? Where's our Baidu even? We seem incapable of developing these huge, successful companies. Yeah we have some major corporations, but almost all of them are long established. Why are we incapable of making these companies? We don't really have an entrepreneurial spirit, like the Americans. And we don't have any eagerness and hunger for success like the Chinese. I'm not saying these things to put down the UK. But we really should answer these questions. And it al starts with our poor education system. I think its time we took education advice form the Koreans, Chinese, (some extent Japanese), and East Asian models. There's no shame in changing tack when you find yourself going off course.

    1. daveeff

      round it goes

      Could be that all those art grads can only get one job - teaching?

      How many good engineers / scientists / mathmaticians are teachers?

      So the question is how to get more engineers in schools? Maybe not as full time teachers?

    2. Allonymous Coward
      Headmaster

      I agree with everything you've said, but you shouldn't discount the value of an arts-centric education *too* much.

      English was always my favourite subject at school. And, yes, I got very into literary analysis and similar pointlessness. It wasn't until later that I got a technical education. That happened because I was interested in technology, but also because I discovered literary analysis didn't always get you very far in the job market.

      When I (finally) got into it though, I discovered something else interesting about the job market. Out there in the workforce, you need people who can communicate ideas clearly. Often, not always, the people with arts backgrounds are the ones who seem to be good at this.

      We now return you to your regular RPi programming...

  33. rurwin
    Holmes

    Patience

    The RPi has not been released for educational use. Yet. What we have now is a development (ie Beta) release that has gone viral. The educational release will come with a case. And full educational back-up, like lesson plans and stuff.

    As I understand it, the teachers posting on here who can use existing PCs for programming are lucky; many ICT suites are locked down by IT Administrators who may even be external to the school. If there are PCs that can be used, then by all means use them; the Raspberry Pi is not aimed at you.

    Similarly there are many parents out there who would love to teach their children to program with the family PC. Go right ahead; the Raspberry Pi is not aimed at you. However there are many more who don't understand the first thing about the home PC, and letting their kids "program" it and possibly break it, and possibly lose their photographs, is a terrifying proposition.

    And of course the Raspberry Pi is a pocket-money item. Kids can buy their own or get them for Christmas.

  34. imanidiot Silver badge
    Boffin

    An engineers view

    Keep in mind the following is written by someone who recently got a Bachelors Degree in Mechanical Engineering with a minor in Automation and Mechatronics.

    I don't think the Pi is really the way to go if we want to interest more youngsters in computers, science and engineering in general. From what I can tell it's still mostly "dry" coding. Sure they can get a basic program working, but it's probably not going to keep the interest of most that are not interested in the finesse of the real IT coding bizz.

    I'd suggest something like the arduino or industrial Programmable Logic Controller. Something that can be connected to a DC motor and battery pack, relays, lights, buttons, switches, servos, etc, and interact with them. It can then be used for more than just the IT classes. It can be involved in the physics levels or with teaching basic electronics.

    I've done several experiments for my physics classes that would have benefitted from using a micro controller. Learning to code a program is great. Learning to code a program that takes into account what it does to things and what a user does is even better, and more rewarding. Now you get a tool that can interest those kids into coding (with the actual coding, moving to actual programming languages once they find out they like it) the kids into engineering/mechatronics (With all the stuff they can now move and bring to live) and those into the electrical bits and wires.

    I suggest industrial PLCs because,while they are expensive, they are usually pretty fool proof, can directly drive/sink more current (thus less hassle with transistors/mosfets/relays to connect small dc motors) and have many options for programming methods. Things can start of easy with standard ladder diagrams. Simply "wait for this, then do this, then wait for that, then do that, etc". Next can come Function Block Diagrams and the likes, for more varied programming and parallel processes. Then lastly move into the "dry" text based programming and show how much more flexible things become, how to build functions, etc.

    My engineering courses included a PLC programming course where the objective, using only boolean outputs at that point, was controlling a small "sorting" rig. Make it sort specific blocks to specific locations, while being protected against "idiot users" doing anything to crash the program. This was fun, but most importantly, when one of my nephews (11 at the time) showed an interest in the course material at one point he could easily think with me while I was working in FBD schemes and pikked up on it pretty fast. Kids like this sort of thing is my experience

    1. James Hughes 1

      Re: An engineers view

      PLC's are not going to teach programming, just not suitable. Also, WAY too expensive and require another PC to program then (like an Arduino does). A PLC is not something a student has at home. Although for industrial automation classes at colleges they are obviously a useful addition.

      Although I'm not sure what you mean by 'dry' coding, but 99% of programming is text based...is it all 'dry'?

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: An engineers view

        I mean by "dry" coding that, coming from a background in engineering myself, the text based programming (be it PLCs structured text, Java or Processing) it's rather boring looking. It's just text with no visual reference to what it is you actually just typed. Ofcourse 99% of programming works that way, but when first starting in programming I don't think it's the best way. I never really "got" programming in my first encounter with it, which was an Introduction to Object Oriented Programming in Java. Sure it was nice being able to make the computer show "hello world" or calculate some numbers and move a circle around based on input and that sort of stuff. I still found it boring spending so much time looking at nothing but text because it just didn't make much sense to me.

        Then later I had that first course in PLC programming, working up from ladder to FBD and SFC programming and THEN finally to ST. Starting in a graphical representation of the process made the whole thing much easier to understand. Being able to then translate that rather tedious process of programming function blocks into typing a few lines of text showed clearly WHY it was so good to do it that way and made it much easier to understand what each text command would be doing. The device then gives me a clear and mechanical representation of the actions I just programmed and tells me with loud noised or weird actions I messed things up. This makes for a (to me atleast) much more satisfying experience imho.

        (I realise PLCs are expensive devices, hence me suggesting Arduinos or similar dev boards)

        I can understand the way most people here see the RPi and programming. I've got a brother actually in the IT business and I understand how someone in the industry would like to see it taught. As an engineer I just think this approach of focusing on software programming for computers is not necessarily the only way to go. By combining it with other fields kids can be taught a lot more than just programming while still staying "on the same subject". But this approach could keep things fun for all kids, not just those into IT, computers and programming.

    2. Christian Berger Silver badge

      Re: An engineers view

      PLCs probably aren't suitable. Their programming systems are to abstract and the tools to work with them are generally horribly bad.

    3. MR J

      Re: An engineers view

      This Is the idea I just posted (ish)..

      PLC Ladder Logic (well, a lot of it doesn't use that now) can really get the mind working and is a simple form for programming. The fact that you only need to teach a child 3 or 4 main componets for them to have a working "program" is great too. I think this is where we should focus (on the younger children) to teach them the basic understanding that goes behind something that runs through sequences. A lot of programmers or backyard coders would say no, but the truth is that simple and robust is the way foward. I dont think the Pi is in the Sky, but I dont think it is a great first step for the masses at a young age.

      If users cant see how PLC programs are similar to coding in popular languages then it is probably because they have never actually worked with complicated PLC programs. That said, Highly complicated programs on a PLC can often be done much easier in a modern language, but I would rather my children learn to ride the Bycycle before getting a Kawasaki Superbike to practice on....

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: An engineers view

        Thanks for making a much clearer and succinct post than I was capable off. That was basically the point I wanted to make.

        @Christian Berger

        If your experience with PLC's is mostly or only with Siemens' Step7 program then I agree. Way too much crap needs to be taken into account for that system. Luckily there are now programs like CoDeSys, which work MUCH better, can program for "generic" PLCs and have the capability to simulate things in software and to build GUI's. And it's programming works to the IEC 61131-3 standard. Meaning it should be compatible with most if not all newer PLC hardware (See: http://www.codesys.com/) This is the program we used for all later Automation courses and it just works. And even better, an educational "no download to PLC" version is free!

        I'm really not advocating schools should start teaching PLC programming though. It's a very specific field with very specific standards and practices. However, my point is that it might be better to start from a graphics based programming language, like ladder logic or SFC. Text based programming can then be introduced once student understand what the blocks do. This helps them to understand the structure behind programming. Something I feel is lacking in a lot of programming courses. Sure a "this is how to do it" is nice. But understanding WHY is what is most important in education. Especially if we want to get the youths interested in computers and science.

  35. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    Way to miss the point, Mr Hill.

    First, coding is not programming. Drag and drop app design for Android is just fancy scripting and you can't make a living doing that.

    Second, why in Cray;'s name is anyone running around unplugging anything?

    Third, so kids are not a "one interest fits all" proposition? Blimey! Whoda thunkit?

    Here's a thought: Instead of looking at the Pi as just the ZX81 all over again, look at it as a chance to provide some kids - at a knock-down price so low you can expect some populations of kids to self-fund it much as I bought paper and crayons and God-alone knows what else over the years for my kid's schools - the chance to build and configure their own network using the Pi and some cables. Not a toy computer for hobbyists but but a very inexpensive component that could be used to teach people USEFUL skills for the future.

    Class project: build and use a network MUD using the Pi. All you need is a big table, the cable, the Pis, a power supply and some monitors (old TVs will do in a pinch). The kids will do the rest.

    No need to unplug all those MS Office boxes at all (not sure why this is being done in the first place).

  36. Tufty Squirrel
    Paris Hilton

    Flawed, yes

    As someone who's been following the Pi from the start, and who has one here...

    Yes, it's flawed. All products are, and when something is developed to a budget as tight as the Pi, by enthusiasts, you can expect a few "rough edges". The ones that can be smoothed, /are/ being smoothed. It is, however, revolutionary, in two ways.

    The first is in the way it has pushed the issue of computer science to the fore. Even if the RPi Foundation had never managed to get a single board out of the door, the questions it has raised, the awareness is has garnered, have made the entire project a success.

    The second (and incidental to the original aims of the Pi) is the massive kick up the arse it's given the "developer board" producers. Instead of being stuck with crummy 8-bit "hacker" boards, we have an avalanche of ever-more-powerful ARM--based SBCs at affordable prices, as companies have realised that if they produce something at reasonable prices, they'll sell by the barrowload.

    There's been quite a lot of fail in the Pi's timeline, and it may never be a success in the classroom. But if it succeeds only in getting scratch more widely adopted, even on the previously Word/Excel/Powerpoint boxes, it's won.

    Paris, because I''d kick her up the arse, too. Or something like that.

  37. h3

    Or they could just use non sucky monitors with a hdmi and a dvi.

  38. Ben Norris

    The Pi doesn't offer anything over a standard computer with USB. What they need is imaginative programming software/language that is easy to learn but uses the same principals as proper programming. Bottom line is it needs to be quick and easy to see some result and keep them interested.

    1. GreyWolf
      Flame

      You what?

      >The Pi doesn't offer anything over a standard computer with USB.<

      GPIO pins

      >What they need is imaginative programming software/language that is easy to learn but uses the same principals as proper programming<

      It's called Scratch and it's already there.

      Bless your heart, anyonbe would think you were blabbering on without knowing anything about the Pi.

  39. This post has been deleted by a moderator

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Windows

      Re: Raspberry Pi does two things brilliantly

      > why is Microsoft crap in schools

      Salesmen pushing entry drugs via huge discounts and trinkets/kickbacks to the person signing the contract, whaddya think?

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Linux

    Dads and the Raspberry Pi

    An extraordinarily negative article from three ICT professionals. Is it just Dads who want to get the Raspberry Pi into schools. I get the sense that some people see it as encroaching on their own fiefdom ...

    --

    ps: "arrivale" == "arrival"

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re. Pi power problems

    I recently bought a dozen of those Li-Ion mobile phone recharger packs, these come complete with interface plugs and a flying lead, even including a nice power indicator and switch.

    Guess what, they power the Pi for days, and simply recharge over a USB connection.

    One less problem, however the HDMI port is annoying,

    Fix for this is to simply use the composite, which is more than enough if you connect it to any old cheap TV, even got it working with RISC OS today.

    The big annoyance with the Pi is the lack of protection of the delicate components on the board, and the lack of heatsinking of the SoC which is easily rectified.

  42. Steve Rivers
    Pint

    Some missing of the point going on here...

    Too many here are obsessing over the equivalent of blackboard or whiteboard in the classroom.

    We need to make sure we are education kids not training them. Just stuffing an RPi in schools, without learning the fundamentals of logic and control will just be training them not educating them.

    It is a tool just like a plane or a lathe or a pencil. If we don't teach the fundamentals then we will never have the success that is wanted. Pick the right tool to teach at the level the kids are at. Lego Mindstorms is a better way of teaching fundamentals of logic, control etc. During those lessons it will become clear that there are some kids that will want to take things much further than others, this is where the RPi and its like come in.

    There is no one size fits all solution for a problem that cannot easily be defined. What is the basic level of technical skills we want 16-18 year olds to leave school with? The ability to think through a problem, to recognise when they should try and automate a solution and when not to bother and the ability to pick the right (to an order of magnitude) tool for the job be it BASH, Python, C++ or ....

    Change technical to medical and I think the answer becomes easier to explain somehow - first aid skills, CPR and confidence that if they were witness to an accident they could help keep someone alive.

  43. Giles Jones Gold badge

    Kids learn science but aren't necessarily going to be scientists, they learn maths but most likely aren't going to be mathematicians or statisticians. They learn history but aren't going to be historians or archaeologists. They learn RE but aren't necessarily going to be priests or bishops and so on.

    So what's wrong with them doing some coding when they probably won't all become programmers?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Because there are thirty bazillion other skills just as important to the modern world that you could say that about.

  44. Stephen Channell
    Meh

    Yes, Yes, Yes... but maybe without the Pi

    Sure Python is better than BASIC and easier for teaching than C for Ardunio, but then so is Java. Back in the 80s you could strap a marker pen to a robot to draw turtle graphics from Logo, or navigate a maze.

    The functional equivalent of that 80s rig is not a cut-down PC without a case, but a cut-up Android phone with additional sensors/controls.. you can get ARM chip, camera, GPS, motion sensors, Wifi, screen & battery pretty cheap.. so why lock the kids to a screen when they can build robots.

  45. Gordon 8
    Coat

    Pi

    Hi,

    I just got my PI this week after months of waiting, have tested it to make sure it's working.

    What a cool piece of kit.

    I've not had any time to try anything out.

    Now to choose what to program in. am thinking riscos as I did my degree programming in BBC Basic. never did get to grips with C.

    Mine's the one with the Pi in the Pocket (I'll bet there are a few more out there as well ;-) )

  46. Dave Bell

    The RPi is not what makes today different

    OK, there have always been games consoles, but Windows no longer dominates the market. People can easily experience different types of personal computer. Apple has the iPhone and iPad. There are Android phones, tablets, and even cheap netbook-class machines. The idea of the office being Windows-only is deader than a very dead doornail.

    Maybe the Raspberry Pi hype was needed to wake the teachers up to that more general change. In my time, I've seen enough teachers who would have been best woken up by high explosive. I hope times have changed.

  47. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge

    one place to watch

    I'm a big fan of the Pi, but then I belong to a certain group of people who taught themselves to program on the first wave of home computers (ZX81, then C64). It's hard for me not to be enthusiastic for what the Pi foundation is attempting to achieve here.

    Whatever all the naysayers may think and however loudly they decry the foundation's offering, I think it's very premature to pronounce judgement on it. It might not achieve the far-reaching goals that it's set itself (changing the character of UK education and bringing back, after a fashion, the halcyon days of the first home computing wave), I think that its true value is only going to be discovered by kids themselves.

    While this measure of success is very hard to gauge, I think there's one place where we will see the Pi cropping up more and more, namely the Young Scientist competition and similar technology-based competitions. I think what sets the Pi apart is that it's not just confined to computer science. Thanks to the GPIO and the ease with which peripherals can be added via USB, I'm sure that the Pi will appeal to students with a preference for other fields.

    It'll still probably take a while, but I'm pretty sure that over the next few years we'll be seeing plenty of innovative secondary school projects that include the Pi. Maybe that's not a great measure of success, but even if that's all that it enables, I think the Pi foundation's work will have been vindicated.

  48. MR J

    Logic

    I think we need to go back to "Basic" coding, and perhaps even coding before that.

    Flow Charts, Ladder Logic, and simple "Basic" programming is all that the children need. The lack of logical understanding is what hurts the most. There is a joy when you write your first program and the class watches as your whatever does whatever it was designed to do (In my day we had to type it all out and it took time).. When it was all said and done, the class of 30'odd that I was in had about 2 people who were highly computer litterate, and a 3rd who went to university to become a programmer "He's yet to write any successful work, but that's another story of my dissapointment of the tech sector"...

    Teach children Logic, Perhaps even use electronic logic boards. Children may not see the fancy screen, but their understanding of the relationship between all variables is a lot better, plus it is much easier for them to use!.

  49. Richard Cranium

    Teachers do their usual thing - find fault

    I remember when schools got the BBC Micro, some were never unboxed or access was so controlled that kids never got much out of it.

    The lesson we should take is not from schools but from that generation when at home, inspired and prepared to spend hours - yes sometimes those hours were spent working out how to break copy protection - and in the process getting heavily into machine code.

    In a 40 minute classroom session nothing much can be achieved - unless it's an inspiring and innovative teacher, then the kids will want to do more in their own time. Yes you can whine about the additional cost of a monitor, keyboard, mouse, memory card but who's not got left over keyboard and mouse from an old PC - or can get them cheap - charity shop or even new they don't cost much. Lots of domestic TVs have an HDMI socket (or converters are available). Next someone will point out that there are households where the additional cost of even a memory card is out of the question - that may be true but ask first how many of those have the latest 50 inch TV and Sky+, then look at the plus side of how many homes there are where the kids CAN make good use of a RasPi.

    Don't waste time with kids that don't give a monkey's, we don't need the entire nation to be IT wizards, just a handful more Berners-Lees. No we don't need a nation of coders, we need a reasonable number of people with a level of understanding of what's possible to maybe design a software system, build a prototype and outsource the coding donkey-work to donkeys.

    I welcome the fact that RasPi is doing better for home sales. The vast majority of schools are just clueless when it comes to IT that's the historic problem and it's not going to go away. Very few teachers can claim any credit for the success of the BBC and Sinclair generation, it always was and still is the case that keen kids know a lot more about IT than their teachers. My lad had to help out with using Excel. His "design a web site" project was rejected, he'd used CSS/Javascript for interactive navigation buttons teacher didn't understand and made him redo them in Flash. The school used and hence recommended Dreamweaver, so he wanted a copy at home - have you seen the price? So he suggested we get a pirate copy... Don't get that problem with RasPi.

    The knee jerk response of teachers to such an anecdote is to dismiss it as "an isolated instance" - the problem is that there are thousands of such isolated instances. I'd turn it around to asy there are isolated instances of IT teachers who do make a decent job of teaching IT an many more who make it about as exciting as learning about the legislature of ancient mesopotamia.

    RasPi gives kids access to an almost "disposable" tool, programming is only part of the story, add-on circuitry is part of the attraction. Think of it as meccano. A good xmas gift for a kid with the aptitude to make good use of it, wasted on uninterested kids. And as with Meccano dad may need to help - a second benefit of getting kids and parents working together.

    1. Luke McCarthy

      Re: Teachers do their usual thing - find fault

      I think it's the usual case of "those who can't, teach". Why would any rational person with a modicum of programming knowledge waste time and money being a teacher?

      I too welcome the RPi as a home device, not necessarily because it's cheap (although that helps) but because it's simple, accessible (from a programming point of view), and not running Windows. It has its flaws such as USB/SD compatibility issues, underpowered CPU and overly proprietary GPU but these can be overlooked.

      Dreamweaver makes me laugh. Isn't it just a glorified text editor for people too lazy to learn HTML?

  50. kyza

    Treat it like a musical instrument...

    Coding & programming at their best have all the same characteristics of arts & crafts - there are multiple ways to get someonwhere and it usually helps if you've got some passion & skill for what you're building/drawing/painting/whatever.

    When I learned to play violin, it started in generic music lessons with my class, and when I decided I wanted to focus on playing it, I started having after-school lessons with one of the music teachers.

    I reckon something similar would be appropriate for the Pi - use Scratch & other apps on a PC to get identify the kids who'll be interested, then offer them the chance to get a bit more serious about it in after school actvivity where they won't be distracted by endless natter about the X-Factor & One Direction.

  51. daveeff
    Facepalm

    Do we need a nation of coders?

    Of course not!!! But we do need a nation WITH coders, every child should have the opportunity to produce s/w and the ones who are interested and good can go on to make their living at it. The idea of lunch clubs and free kit for anyone who shows enough interest & application sounds great.

    At the moment we don't seem to want enable any child to go on to write code, just make sure they can use power point (presumably to go into management and do PPT's explaining why this country can't actually make anything any more).

  52. John 62
    Thumb Up

    Brilliant article

    Just like not everyone can learn piano, not everyone can learn to "code".

    It would be great if every child get access to using a RPi at least once in school, the same way that every child should study at least one Shakespeare play.

    Probably the most important thing is to get kids reading Animal Farm.

  53. Luke McCarthy

    Nominative Determinism

    Taygan Forth loves coding

    Alex Blunt “You can have someone at your control.”

  54. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why the Raspberry PI is correct for IT education

    1. Standard and advanced eduction in the UK is aimed at training up the future workforce of this county, given that UNIX/linux is now the standard OS across all IT except PCs it is high time to stop training our workforce in Microsoft products. If you go the M$ route then as a business you are going to be paying through the nose forever whereas the opensource alternative is cheaper and lacks only trained staff.

    2. Raspbeerry PI has joined the majority of IT systems and runs UNIX on an ARM so learning to code even down to assembler will provide an education in in the OS and environment that system for system is the most common and growing base in the world. RPi comes with everything you would expect from a linux system including all the free developement tools and as well as non-IT business tools, it isnt only scratch.

    3. The RPi is around a fraction of the price of an x86 system and could even be provided free to families on benefits as the cost could be offset against the general move of Government services to the web.

    4. System maintenance and the related removal of unnecessary ICT technicians would more than pay for schools the implement an all RPi. If the RPi gets corrupted then reflash the SD card, if the hardware fails then buy another. At £30 retail per unit that is a lot of broken RPi against even one ICT technician, given that the ICT tech currently spend most of their time fixing problems inherent in M$ products rather than hardware faults

    5. RPi are assembled in the UK so a larger percentage of the system cost stays in the this country and the ARM is one of the few British IT successes we should be growing our own support for the CPU rather than sending all the money abroad.

    An RPi education is what the present and future holds for both IT and business and fingers crossed will mean the return to bespoke business software systems rather than the current one size fits noone that falls over if you breathe on it. About time too

  55. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Multiple options...

    The way I see it, the Raspberry Pi would be just one of the options available in a class.

    Perhaps it would run a web server, that would then deliver content to a mobile application, teaching the kids about basic networking.

    More exciting still, basic robotics - and push it a step further, a phone app that controls the robotics.

    And the robotics is lego based !

    I'm getting excited just thinking about the possibilities :)

    Anyway, I hope the teachers are pre-installing these Pi's before unleashing the kids on them, otherwise it's going to be a *very* long and boring lesson. I installed the basic base packages along with a apache, sql etc. to create a basic home dev box - took 3 hours!

  56. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Pi makes sense if....

    a) you are going to use the GPIO pins;

    b) you are going to use it for an purpose which cuts existing power use (eg - mediacentre box taped to the back of a monitor; works very well in that instance, plenty more too)

    Its really not logical to use it for a general purpose coding device and I don't think that it should be viewed as such.

    It is basically an embedded computer capable of running moderately complex tasks - its an ideal platform for control engineering tasks but its certainly not the ideal platform to create "apps", for want of a better word.

    tl;dr needs peripherals on GPIO to make sense - that implies some electronics as well as coding; alternatively makes a great mediacentre with MPEG/VC-1 licences and uses about 8W doing it.

    PS - I have one.

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