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BBC confirms new computing in schools programme

BBC confirms new computing in schools programme

The BBC Micro is making a comeback, despite claims that the project was a teacher's ill-timed hoax.

The BBC has confirmed that it's working on a new computing programme for schools, tentatively named as the BBC Micro 2. Before you get excited, though, the broadcaster isn't getting back into the hardware business.

The more experienced among our readership may remember the original BBC project to bring computing into schools, which launched the fortunes of start-up computing company Acorn when it chose its prototype Acorn Computer to be rebranded as the BBC Micro. Coupled with educational materials, a TV programme and government backing, the BBC's project made the UK a world leader in educational computing and transformed Acorn from a tiny start-up into a multi-million pound business almost overnight.

Now, it's looking to do something similar as a way of addressing recent concerns about the state of computing education in the UK. It's not getting back into the hardware game, though, but instead working on a cross-platform integrated development environment (IDE) suitable for education.

Currently based on a fork of the open-source Eclipse IDE and labouring under the codename 'BBC Micro 2,' it's a bit hush-hush. What is known is that upcoming low-cost ARM-based computer the Raspberry Pi, created by David Braben and Eben Upton, will be supported, along with systems running Linux, Windows and Mac OS X.

There has been a certain amount of confusion surrounding the project, however. An early prototype was unveiled at the Hack To The Future educational computing event organised by Alan O'Donahoe, only to be dismissed as a 'hoax' by the people behind Raspberry Pi itself.

To be fair, the evidence seemed overwhelming. The website which held videos and details of the proposed development environment was sparse in the extreme, and registered to an individual rather than the BBC itself. It also didn't match what the Raspberry Pi team had been working on with the BBC directly, leading a member of the group to dismiss the site as a hoax.

The apparent final nail in the coffin was provided by O'Donahoe himself. Last year, O'Donahoe presented at the BarCampMediaCity a claim that his school, Our Lady's Catholic High School, had been selected to take part in a computing for schools project called BBC Codelab. The presentation generated much discussion, not least of which came from the BBC personnel present at the event.

There was a good reason for that: BBC Codelab was a hoax. 'I did, back in September, do a hoax presentation,' O'Donahoe admitted to Bit-Tech in a telephone interview last night. 'I revealed it was a hoax at the end.'

It's this remarkably similar and self-admittedly hoax presentation that appears to have left O'Donahoe branded as the boy who cried wolf. This time, he claims, he's telling the truth. 'I'm just a teacher in a classroom, and I'm pretty passionate about getting children to code,and the very suggestion that I am trying to create some big hoax is very upsetting.

'On Saturday we [Our Lady's Catholic High School] had an event at our school called Hack To The Future, and we had 365 adults, kids, grandparents - everyone came there, including the BBC, and they debuted a coding platform. Anyone could have come along and seen it, tried it out, tested it.

'If it's a hoax on my part, it's a very elaborate one in which I got 365 people from all over the UK to come and watch this thing. It's not a hoax. It's a pilot project that a team within the BBC are trying.
'

Despite all evidence to the contrary, the BBC Micro 2 project appears to be genuine. Several BBC staffers have come forward to confirm the project as genuine, claiming that it was simply shown to the public too early.

Raspberry Pi, for its part, has issued a retraction of its previous statements branding the project as a hoax, leaving fans of teaching computing in schools hopeful that the BBC Micro 2 project will, one day, see a true release for both the Raspberry Pi platform and others.

15 Comments

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MSHunter 16th February 2012, 11:55 Quote
This would be great for our children and on a completely selfish note, the Raspberry Pi being mass produced might lead to larger supply and lower price *dreaming*
Gareth Halfacree 16th February 2012, 11:58 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by MSHunter
This would be great for our children and on a completely selfish note, the Raspberry Pi being mass produced might lead to larger supply and lower price *dreaming*
Lower than $25? Doubtful - it's already being made as cheaply as possible by a non-profit. Economies of scale wouldn't knock more than a few pence off per unit when they're already making them in batches of 10,000.
Stotherd-001 16th February 2012, 12:01 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by MSHunter
This would be great for our children and on a completely selfish note, the Raspberry Pi being mass produced might lead to larger supply and lower price *dreaming*

You need a lower price on $35? I'm hoping for more models and add ons if it gets popular enough.

I just hope Apple doesn't try to get involved or it'll turn into an "ipad for every child" program. Though the BBC might end up doing that themselves...
steveo_mcg 16th February 2012, 12:11 Quote
I was watching this on twitter and tbh was thoroughly confused, that clears it up at least.

So a (mostly) universal IDE even ardent Linux haters should be able to get on board with this. MS fan boiys should probably avoid I'm guessing it won't feel much like Visual Studio.

+1 to more add ons, arduino style shields could be awesome.
Hustler 16th February 2012, 12:30 Quote
"The old farts among our readership may remember the original BBC project to bring computing into schools"

Corrected for accuracy..:))
Flibblebot 16th February 2012, 13:04 Quote
...and of course it brings the Acorn/ARM story full circle - they made their money with the BBC Model B and, 30 years on, their tech will be back in schools again.

All we need now is for the Research Machines 380Z to be relaunched and I'll be reliving my school years all over again :D

(Yes. I'm an old fart and proud of it. Kids these days don't know how good they've got it. Bah humbug, and all that )
digitaldunc 16th February 2012, 15:16 Quote
Excellent -- if the state of computing being taught in schools is anything as backwards as when I left (2002) then this should help stimulate things somewhat.

Funnily enough we were still using BBC Masters, I created my final robotics tech project in BASIC :)
Andy Mc 16th February 2012, 20:32 Quote
[QUOTE=digitaldunc]Excellent -- if the state of computing being taught in schools is anything as backwards as when I left (2002) then this should help stimulate things somewhat.QUOTE]

Backwards is an understatement. When I left in 1996 the ICT course consisted of litle more than "This is a mouse. his is a word processor...etc". That was the reason I didn't pick it. I'd been doing all that stuff for years on my Amiga 500.
Atomic 16th February 2012, 20:41 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Andy Mc
Quote:
Originally Posted by digitaldunc
Excellent -- if the state of computing being taught in schools is anything as backwards as when I left (2002) then this should help stimulate things somewhat.

Backwards is an understatement. When I left in 1996 the ICT course consisted of litle more than "This is a mouse. his is a word processor...etc". That was the reason I didn't pick it. I'd been doing all that stuff for years on my Amiga 500.
It's still as backwards as ever, I tutor a couple of A Level "ICT" students and it's just glorified MS Office training!

There's no real 'computing' taught in schools anymore, when I did my computing A Level we learned binary maths and programming theory before actually making a program for a final project. None of that exists in schools anymore.
mucgoo 16th February 2012, 21:05 Quote
There still a computing A-level but given that its a completly new subject with previous experiences of IT being limited to MS office training uptakes low and the content basic due to the need to start from no prior knowledge and shoddy maths abilities.
Blademrk 16th February 2012, 22:57 Quote
I still have my BBC :)
vodkas666 16th February 2012, 23:00 Quote
Hoping to go into teaching after my Physics research degree, I personally feel this is a great move. I came into the computing game very later cause of my and my parents finances but my first experience of computers came under an Acorn at my primary due to the enthusiasm of my Year 4 teacher. My family could only afford hand-me-down computers that needed programming to even work which benefited me hugely later in life, mainly at degree level. Anyway I believe that teaching children how to actually code rather than the MS office **** I got "taught" would massively benefit the country. Also as a "computer geek" I would actually like to teach coding than any MS office crap that companies appear to want.
phuzz 17th February 2012, 10:14 Quote
My dad was a teacher, and his school didn't want to keep their shiny new BBC Micros in the school over the holidays, so my dad brought one home.
20-something years later I earn my living in IT, I don't know what I'd be doing if I hadn't had that BBC to play with one holiday.
Atomic 17th February 2012, 12:23 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by phuzz
My dad was a teacher, and his school didn't want to keep their shiny new BBC Micros in the school over the holidays, so my dad brought one home.
20-something years later I earn my living in IT, I don't know what I'd be doing if I hadn't had that BBC to play with one holiday.
Guess I'm a few years younger than you... I remember my mum bringing her classroom Acorn computer home in the holidays, I'd say it certainly helped get me into IT too.

Computers are such common place in homes now and have become so easy to use, yet the syllabus has hardly changed in 10years no wonder kids are bored and don't want careers in IT!
Gareth Halfacree 17th February 2012, 13:07 Quote
Update: Some quotes in the article have been corrected at Alan O'Donahoe's request.
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