BBC to deliver one million free micro:bit computers to schoolchildren

BBC is providing free micro:bit computers for Year 7 children to help nurture coding and Stem skills

The BBC plans to give one million codeable micro:bit computers to Year 7 students this autumn, as part of its Make it Digital strategy.

The Make it Digital strategy was launched in September 2014 to encourage people into coding, programming and digital technology.

Just as the BBC Micro was introduced in schools in the 1980s to introduce children to technology, the micro:bit has been launched to inspire young people to get creative with digital by helping them develop skills in science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem).

The micro:bit measures just 4cm by 5cm and connects to other devices such as the Arduino, Galileo, Kano, littleBits and Raspberry Pi. It features 25 red LEDs, two programmable buttons, an on-board motion detector, a built-in compass, Bluetooth Smart technology and five input and output (I/O) rings.

Along with the pocket-sized computers, BBC Learning will provide resources including Live Lessons, getting started videos, projects and tutorials.

The BBC also plans to develop a not-for-profit company to make micro:bits commercially available in the UK and internationally.

Digital learning through experimentation

Sinead Rocks, head of BBC Learning, pointed out that children are given paintbrushes when they’re young, with no experience, and it should be exactly the same with technology. 

“The BBC micro:bit is all about young people learning to express themselves digitally, and it’s their device to own,” she said. “It’s our most ambitious education initiative for 30 years. And as the micro:bit is able to connect to everything from mobile phones to plant pots and Raspberry Pis, this could be for the internet of things what the BBC Micro was to the British gaming industry.”

Tony Hall, director general of the BBC, said the initiative has the power to be transformative for the UK.

“Channelling the spirit of the Micro for the digital age, the BBC micro:bit will inspire a new generation in a defining moment for digital creativity here in the UK. All you need is your curiosity, creativity and imagination – we’ll provide the tools. The BBC is one of the few organisations in the world that could convene something on this scale, with such an unprecedented partnership at its core,” he said.

As the micro:bit is able to connect to everything from mobile phones to plant pots and Raspberry Pis, this could be for the internet of things what the BBC Micro was to the British gaming industry
Sinead Rocks, BBC Learning

The micro:bit is a project in collaboration between 29 international organisations, startups and education organisations.

One of these partners is Barclays, which plans to incorporate the micro:bit into its digital education programmes, such as the 13,500 employees trained as Digital Eagles across the UK. The bank is also planning to developing a new module in its LifeSkills programme.

Steven Roberts, director of strategic transformation at Barclays, said the bank recognises it has a commercial and social responsibility to ensure that no one is left behind on the digital journey, so it is“on a mission to help and enable people to understand and embrace coding and the new digital revolution – whether they’re seven or 107”.

“We are proud and privileged to be supporting BBC Make it Digital and the launch of the micro:bit. Working alongside the other partners of this very important initiative, we also see this as an opportunity for our business and corporate customers to become engaged in the digital revolution we find ourselves in.”

Inspiring future innovators

Another partner of the BBC micro:bit is ARM. “Technology is now as much a part of childhood as riding a bicycle or kicking a football, but going from user to innovator is something we still need to encourage,” said ARM CEO Simon Segars. “The BBC and Acorn Computers, where ARM technology was first created, came together 35 years ago to develop the BBC Micro, and that inspired the engineers now at the forefront of shaping our increasingly connected world.

“The new BBC micro:bit has even greater potential because it can inspire boys and girls towards a career in technology at a time of unprecedented demand for science and engineering skills across all areas of the global economy.”

Geoff Lees, senior vice-president of microcontrollers at Freescale Semiconductor, also a partner, said: “The internet of tomorrow is bringing almost limitless possibilities to interact with the world around us, and the new BBC micro:bit, with its unique ability to detect and measure both movement and direction, as well as sensing location and surroundings, should truly encourage more young people to get involved and to experiment and create in the digital world.

“The BBC Make it Digital initiative is set to play a critical role in helping to unleash imagination and creativity in the technology innovators and visionaries of tomorrow, and this aligns perfectly with our own commitment to world-class education in Stem.”

Samsung is another partner on the micro:bit initiative. “We are very excited to bring the micro:bit to life with the BBC,” said Andy Griffiths, president of Samsung Electronics UK & Ireland. “Our engineers are enabling the micro:bit to communicate with everyday digital devices, such as phones and tablets, to allow young people to code inside and outside the classroom. 

“It's a great way to showcase the capabilities of this technology and we’re looking forward to seeing how creative people can get with coding, whether that's programming their micro:bit to take a selfie via their phone camera or coding it to flash when they get an incoming call – the possibilities are limitless.”

Michel Van der Bel, UK CEO of Microsoft, said being a maker matters: “Real computing – doing, not just consuming – will drive a creative revolution in this country.”

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