Deliveries of the BBC’s new micro:bit computer got underway today, with the first of a million students taking delivery of their codeable pocket-sized computers.
The devices are being issued free of charge to every year 7 student in England and Wales, year 8 student in Northern Ireland and S1 student in Scotland in a bid to boost coding and programming knowledge.
With ever greater amounts of commerce and leisure being dependent on IT, business leaders and other stakeholders have expressed concern that the UK’s pool of potential coders and tech workers is too small.
Working with sector leaders, including Microsoft, ARM, Nordic Semiconductor and Samsung, the BBC has developed the micro:bit computer in order to boost awareness and interest in coding and technology.
Featuring USB and Bluetooth connections, buttons and an array of bright LED lights, the computer can be used to play games, control other devices and even be fashioned into items of wearable tech.
Coding is carried out online at www.microbit.co.uk or via a mobile app and both students and teachers have access to range of free tutorials, code samples and other resources.
The micro:bit initiative builds on the role played by the legendary BBC Micro which helped introduce Brits to home computing in the 1980s and is described as the broadcaster’s “most ambitious education project in 30 years”.
Other firms and organisations which have partnered with the BBC to develop the device include Kitronik, Cisco, Barclays, NXP Semiconductors, Lancaster University and the Wellcome Trust.
Deliveries were originally expected for the start of the new school term but were delayed after the partners encountered some technical challenges provoking negative headlines and complaints from some teachers. The BBC will be hoping that the arrival of the devices this week moves the initiative into more positive territory.
Today it confirmed that micro:bits will also be available to buy from a range of retailers “following the nationwide rollout” while “much of the software” developed by the project “will be open-sourced”.
Any money raised from retail sales will be used “to further encourage as many people as possible to join the coding revolution.”
Tony Hall, BBC Director-General, said: “This is a very special moment for us, our partners and most importantly for young people across the country.
“The BBC micro:bit has the potential to be a seminal piece of British innovation, helping this generation to be the coders, programmers and digital pioneers of the future.
“Only the BBC could attempt a project this ambitious, on such a large scale, and I’m thrilled we’ve persuaded so many people to get behind this and make it happen.”
As part of its involvement in the project Microsoft has developed a number of resources for teachers to help them get the most out of the device. This includes a Quick Start Guide which walks them through from unboxing to setting up the device and on to programming.
The company has also worked with teachers to produce “dozens of rich lesson plans,” including how to turn the micro:bit into a Pac Man game.
Discussing the firm’s decision to back the project, UK Director of Corporate Affairs Hugh Milward said: “As soon as we saw the ambition and the scale involved, we jumped at the chance to partner with the BBC on a project designed expressly to introduce young people to coding.
“The reality is that in the UK we haven’t done enough to nurture the next generation of tech talent. The BBC micro:bit is a huge step forward, because it shows young people the creative power of digital skills.”