BBC confirms new computing in schools programme

February 16, 2012 | 10:25

Tags: #bbc-micro #ide #programming

Companies: #bbc #raspberry-pi

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.
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