Last year Google chairman Eric Schmidt warned that Britain was throwing away its “great computer heritage” by failing to teach programming in schools. Mr. Schmidt also promised some funds to teach teachers how to use the Raspberry Pi “microcomputer” to teach programming. Now Google has taken the next obvious step, and promised more money to put piles of Pis in UK classrooms. According to the BBC:
Schools around the UK are to be given 15,000 free microcomputers, with a view to creating a new generation of computer scientists. Funded by Google, the Raspberry Pi Foundation hopes the free devices will inspire children to take up coding.
Eric Schmidt put it this way:
Britain’s innovators and entrepreneurs have changed the world – the telephone, television and computers were all invented here. We have been working to encourage the next generation of computer scientists and we hope this donation… to British school pupils will help drive a new wave of innovation.
Not everybody appears to be happy with Google’s initiative however. The National Union of Teachers said that:
Schools are increasingly being used as marketing venues by companies promoting their own brands in return for teaching resources, books, sports equipment or computers. Commercial sponsorship of school resources and equipment and their involvement in training can actively undermine teachers’ efforts to educate children about the dangers of manipulation and commercial exploitation.
Somewhat surprisingly it seems that Microsoft are at least partly in agreement with Google on this issue. According to Steve Beswick, their Director of Education:
Computer science is something that we have been calling the ‘fourth science’ for some time. We believe that it is every bit as important as physics, chemistry and biology. By formally introducing children to computer science basics at primary school, we stand a far greater chance of increasing the numbers taking the subject through to degree level and ultimately the world of work.
Perhaps Microsoft will soon also be providing NUT members with free hardware around which to develop cross-curricular “fourth science/dismal science” lessons on modelling the benefits of increased knowledge of computer science to the Great British Economy?
Whether that comes to pass or not it seems that the Great British Government agrees with Google and Microsoft that such benefits will in fact occur. Education Secretary Michael Gove has just announced that computer science will be added to the English Baccalaureate syllabus. According to a Department for Education spokesperson:
We need to bring computational thinking into our schools. Having Computer Science in the EBacc will have a big impact on schools over the next decade. It will mean millions of children learning to write computer code so they are active creators and controllers of technology instead of just being passive users. It will be great for education, great for the economy, and will help restore the spirit of Alan Turing and make Britain a world leader again.
Here’s Eben Upton and Eric Schmidt explaining “Google’s secret plan” to some Great British Schoolchildren:
Long live the spirit of Alan Turing!