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Google funds 15,000 Raspberry Pis for UK schools

Google funds 15,000 Raspberry Pis for UK schools

Eben Upton and Eric Schmidt, pictured in Cambridge showing kids just what the Raspberry Pi can do. (Image courtesy of the Raspberry Pi Foundation.)

The Raspberry Pi Foundation, the non-profit charity behind the eponymous low-cost ARM-based microcomputer, has announced a major grant from Google that will allow it to provide 15,000 Raspberry Pis to UK schools at absolutely no cost.

With all the projects cropping up with a Pi at their heart - including miniature arcade machines, RiscOS desktops and our very own custom case contest - it's easy to forget why the Raspberry Pi Foundation was set up: a desire to produce a low-cost and accessible computing device to help reverse the trend towards lacklustre computing education in the UK. While far from the only organisation with that goal, the launch of the Pi was supposed to be a renaissance for UK technology education.

Sadly, adoption in schools, colleges and universities has been slow. Part of that lies in the lack of readily available teaching materials: it's a rare teacher indeed who has the time to develop teaching resources completely from scratch for an as-yet unproven platform, and until such resources exist it's unlikely that a purchasing department will sign off on an order for a brace of Raspberry Pis. As the project matures, that particular stumbling block is being resolved: free teaching materials are now available to download, something lacking at the device's launch.

Another issue is that the Raspberry Pi has yet to be properly proven as an educational tool. Until teachers can point to other schools who have purchased a number of Raspberry Pis and have successfully integrated them into the curriculum, it remains difficult to convince management of their necessity.

That's where Google comes in: providing a big cash injection into the charity as part of its Google Giving grands programme, Google is paying for 15,000 Raspberry Pi Model B units to be provided free of charge to UK schools. Chosen by CoderDojo, Code Club, Computing at Schools, Generating Genius, Teach First and OCR - the latter of which will also be paying for the production of 15,000 teaching and learning packs to be supplied alongside the hardware - the schools will be given the units with nothing to pay as a way of boosting the Pi's profile as an educational tool.

'We’re absolutely made up over the news,' enthused Liz Upton, the Foundation's publicist. 'This is a brilliant way for us to find kids all over the country whose aptitude for computing can now be explored properly. We believe that access to tools is a fundamental necessity in finding out who you are and what you’re good at. We want those tools to be within everybody’s grasp, right from the start.'

To launch the programme, co-designer of the Pi Eben Upton and Google's executive chair Eric Schmidt visited a Cambridge school to provide some hands-on proof as to the device's educational capabilities - a PR coup, naturally, but one that demonstrates that Schmidt is willing to put his (company's) money where his mouth is when it comes to addressing what he claims is the parlous state of UK technology education.

A portion of the grant is also being used to hire Clive Beale, a volunteer for the Foundation who now takes on the role of director of educational development at the non-profit.

7 Comments

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forum_user 30th January 2013, 13:39 Quote
Great generosity from Google. It is nice to see them use some of their large pot of money to help our kids learn.
schmidtbag 30th January 2013, 14:27 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by forum_user
Great generosity from Google. It is nice to see them use some of their large pot of money to help our kids learn.

Agreed. This becomes 1 more point why I feel google isn't an evil corporation. I do think it's a shame that things like the Pi not being a "proven educational tool" could be a factor in it not being used. What if most schools deny these Pis? What makes them think Google will do something nice like this for them again? Nothing against the UK but I think the Pis would've been better shipped elsewhere in countries where the average student's parents couldn't even afford a Pi. Countries that sincerely care about becoming modern and industrialized but just can't afford to.
Anfield 30th January 2013, 15:44 Quote
I suspect money isn't really the problem, but rather that teachers have grown up with Windows, so if they had to teach using a pi they would have to invest hundreds of hours of their own time first to learn the completely unfamiliar platform in order to not look like a complete idiot as soon as a student asks a simple question, in other words, teachers would be required to work for free and no one does that voluntarily.
schmidtbag 30th January 2013, 16:28 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Anfield
I suspect money isn't really the problem, but rather that teachers have grown up with Windows, so if they had to teach using a pi they would have to invest hundreds of hours of their own time first to learn the completely unfamiliar platform in order to not look like a complete idiot as soon as a student asks a simple question, in other words, teachers would be required to work for free and no one does that voluntarily.

Right that's true there's no denying that, which is another reason why I think the Pis might as well be sent to low-wealth schools. Low-wealth teachers probably won't know Windows that well either, so they have a learning curve regardless of what is donated to them. Also, Pi's hardware limitations wouldn't mean much to someone who has never owned a modern x86 machine; it's hard to complain about something when you don't know there's something better.
Gareth Halfacree 30th January 2013, 16:33 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by schmidtbag
Right that's true there's no denying that, which is another reason why I think the Pis might as well be sent to low-wealth schools.
There are projects afoot to do exactly this, but there are a number of stumbling blocks. Chief among these is that a Raspberry Pi by itself isn't much good: you'll need a keyboard, a mouse, a power supply with micro-SD cable, an SD card, a computer to transfer the operating system to said SD card if it doesn't come pre-loaded, and a display - which, to be fair, can be an old TV connected via composite, if you don't mind squinting.

That's assuming you don't want to fiddle around with the GPIO capabilities, which are the most interesting aspect of the Pi. If you do, you can add in the need for a breadboard, cables, components, a bi-directional level shifter, sensors. Oh, and if you don't have an internet connection, then enjoy only using the pre-installed software and applications that come by default with Raspbian.

The Raspberry Pi is a very affordable computer, but it's no OLPC: you need a whole bunch of extras before you can actually make use of it. That's the issue with just sending a bunch of boards to a developing nation: you'll also need to send a whole bunch of other stuff, too.
schmidtbag 30th January 2013, 16:41 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree
There are projects afoot to do exactly this, but there are a number of stumbling blocks. Chief among these is that a Raspberry Pi by itself isn't much good: you'll need a keyboard, a mouse, a power supply with micro-SD cable, an SD card, a computer to transfer the operating system to said SD card if it doesn't come pre-loaded, and a display - which, to be fair, can be an old TV connected via composite, if you don't mind squinting.

That's assuming you don't want to fiddle around with the GPIO capabilities, which are the most interesting aspect of the Pi. If you do, you can add in the need for a breadboard, cables, components, a bi-directional level shifter, sensors. Oh, and if you don't have an internet connection, then enjoy only using the pre-installed software and applications that come by default with Raspbian.

The Raspberry Pi is a very affordable computer, but it's no OLPC: you need a whole bunch of extras before you can actually make use of it. That's the issue with just sending a bunch of boards to a developing nation: you'll also need to send a whole bunch of other stuff, too.

Yea, I have thought of that myself. However, SD cards, keyboards, and mice aren't expensive. I feel like if someone were to donate Pis, they're likely going to donate all of those with an image pre-loaded on the SD cards. But remember, what you and I find useful out of Pi isn't really necessities for educational purposes of people who don't know something bettere exists. What you can do with the Pi today is, IMO, sufficient.

I do feel that the MK802II is probably a better choice for schools though, just because it costs the same while having an enclosure, built-in storage, and better performance. The only problem is figuring out how to replace Android with something educational (or maybe just installing educational apps for android).
steveo_mcg 30th January 2013, 16:44 Quote
The other issue is the one the OLPC project came across.

The "Low Wealth" countries didn't want Linux on their machines as they felt that they would be at a "disadvantage" to the west who learned on Windows. Now insert your favourite MS related conspiracy theory here but the OLPC ended up become much more expensive to accommodate a cut down XP.
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