In a world where the internet looks like it could dictate the way society lives and works for many years to come, the micro:bit may well turn out to be an incredibly important invention. This credit card-sized, low-cost computer hopes to inspire the next generation of tech professionals by teaching children how to code.
Upwards of one million micro:bit computers have been dispatched to all Year 7 students across the UK. Although children will be encouraged to develop their own games at first, it could provide the building blocks for aspiring website designers and online experts specialising in everything from cyber security to dedicated servers.
What is the micro:bit?
Developed by the BBC, the micro:bit follows in the footsteps of the initial BBC Micro, used by several schools in the early 1980s. However, today’s incarnation is 70 times smaller and 18 times faster.
It is made up of processors and sensors just like a standard computer, but nearly every component can be programmed according to the student’s input. For example, its 25 red LED lights are capable of flashing messages, while the two programmable buttons can be used to control games or pause and skip songs on a playlist.
So far, both teachers and students have put the micro:bit’s capabilities to the test with impressive results. One class has sent a micro:bit into near space in a weather balloon, while another created a limbo pole utilising its motion sensor.
Why develop the micro:bit?
For Sinead Rocks, the head of the BBC micro:bit project, there were a number of reasons why this device needed creating, chiefly to address the UK’s digital skills gap and to encourage interest in technology-based careers.
“We wanted to try to create something that would ultimately help tackle the skills gap in the UK when it comes to the tech sector,” said Rocks.
“Children have many devices. They’re used to using tablets and smartphones. We wanted to do something that transformed them from being passive users, to teach them something about what they use on a daily basis. It creates that first step for children who may not have known that they had an interest in coding.”
How could the micro:bit change the internet?
Although it’s early days, the micro:bit has already demonstrated amazing potential. The BBC has even partnered with tech giants including Samsung and Microsoft to run workshops on how to use the device. So, there is no reason why the micro:bit can’t trigger a revolution among young people to pursue internet-related careers.
“The ability to code is now as important as grammar and mathematics skills and it can unlock important new career options,” believes Simon Segars, chief executive of ARM, who says the BBC Micro started his journey towards a career in technology.
“I can easily imagine a new wave of design entrepreneurs looking back and citing today as the day their passion for technology began.”
Tony Hall, the director general of the BBC, is also in agreement. “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.”