BBC will give 1 million coding devices to British kids

Make It Digital initiative will also herald a dramatisation of the making of Grand Theft Auto

The BBC is seeking to evoke the spirit of the BBC Micro with a new initiative to nurture and inspire a new generation of programmers.

"Make It Digital" is the name being applied to a clutch of forward-thinking activities designed to address a shortfall in skills required by digital industries. The sector needs 1.4 million professionals over the next five years, according to the BBC, and Britain isn't yet in a position to provide them.

The most striking aspect of the initiative will be the distribution of a wearable coding device called "Micro Bit" to every year 7 student - spanning ages 11 to 13 - in the country, amounting to 1 million devices in total. The Micro Bit is still in development, but it will be available this autumn. The BBC hopes it will serve as a springboard to more advanced coding devices, like Raspberry Pi.

There will also be a major, nine-week traineeship programme - "the largest of its kind" - which will have room for up to 5,000 young unemployed people.

"This is exactly what the BBC is all about - bringing the industry together on an unprecedented scale and making a difference to millions," said Tony Hall, director-general of the BBC, in a statement.

"Just as we did with the BBC Micro in the 1980s, we want to inspire the digital visionaries of the future. Only the BBC can bring partners together to attempt something this ambitious, this important to Britain's future on the world stage."

For those who don't fit the criteria mentioned above, there will also be a season of television and online activities to promote Make It Digital. The most exciting part of this, by a long distance, is a BBC Two drama about the making of Grand Theft Auto. Think David Fincher's The Social Network and you'll be close to the intention.

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Latest comments (12)

James Boulton Owner, Retro HQ Ltd7 years ago
Very nice, we need more of this sort of thing. The power available these days for little cost is amazing. You can pick up an FPGA dev board from eBay for 8 which is powerful enough to do some very funky things (driving an old laptop LCD panel for example). Couple this with cheap microcontrollers and PCB fabrication (again in China) and you can do some amazing things for under 50 with some experimentation. Even simpler than this you have all the Arduino stuff too.

When I grew up you were a lot closer to the hardware (hardware mods published in magazines etc), but today this side of things is lacking -- but paradoxically hardware has never been more accessible than it is currently.
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Istvan Fabian Principal Engineer, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe7 years ago
Agree, but keep in mind that kind of FPGA is actually one that can no longer be sold in the EU due to recycling and environmental regulations - so you are closer to GBP 50-100 mark in an actual product that can be legally sold.
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Bonnie Patterson Narrative Designer, Writer 7 years ago
Given that the games industry (and software as a service in general) is such a large part of the UK economy, and that programming can be such a performance-enhancer in any job, this is a great step.

This is what makes me sad about the whole "BBC losing the licence fee" thing. It's the exact opposite of what we need - the BBC could be expanded and turned into a licenced video resource like a British Library, with educational, informative and high-quality entertainment free to all citizens, Make it modular, add a licence fee for books annually, one for music, etc and make all the knowledge, all the creativity of this country available to everyone who lives in her for one annual price. Upgrade the tech so everything really is accessible on demand, piracy levels plummet, and anyone, no matter who and where they are, has equal access to prime educational and inspirational resources, a free choice of future if they have the will to pursue it.

Defunding the Beeb and making it dumb down further than it already has in the last decade means less ambitious projects like this, when it could be a national treasure. Sad.
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Istvan Fabian Principal Engineer, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe7 years ago
Now THAT I'd happily pay for.
Trying to compete with Sky on the other hand - I already have a Sky subscription with programming light years ahead in quality of BBC ( in terms of where they compete), so I am extremely unhappy to pay for an unviable mandatory alternative as it is right now.
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Kieren Bloomfield Software Engineer, EA Sports7 years ago
Having moved away from the UK I really miss the BBC. It really is a lot better than what a lot of people give it credit for. @Istvan, each to their own I guess but I would never say Sky is light years ahead of BBC. BBC news and documentary programs including science, tech and natural history are completely world class.

But back on topic. Yes this is great as long as the teachers can make the most of it.
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Alex Barnfield Lead Engineer, 17-BIT7 years ago
Sky lightyears ahead of the BBC? Have I fallen into a parallel, somewhat disturbing, dimension?
I also miss the BBC having moved away from the UK, greatly. It's interesting to see how much of what I purchase on iTunes continues to be BBC produced programming, and nice to see quality dramas like Sherlock maintaining their popularity even this far from home.

It's odd to see the BBCs remit expanding this far (especially on an already stretched budget). I was aware they'd made some flash games to help kids learn to programme, but this is something altogether different, and a great idea.
It shouldn't take much prompting from teachers to get most kids to make the most of these.
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Istvan Fabian Principal Engineer, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe7 years ago
Yes, news and documentaries are a lot better on BBC.
But when they try to compete with entertainment offerings with any of the competing channels that's a lost cause, and a complete waste of effort and money.
There are notable exceptions like e.g. Sherlock or Dirk Gently (cancelled), Merlin (ending is... hard to forgive), but most of the programs are just fillers, trying to fit a certain criteria (copying the exact same offerings from other channels) so hard that it hurts.
Other channels also do this from significantly less money and not from public money.
BBC programmes - the ones you actually want to buy - are the most expensive on DVD or BD for genuine UK residents, despite the fact that they were financed from OUR money in the first place.
It's time they just scramble all the channels, and we'll see who would pay for them...
BBC would have a place in education etc. like this - and that's a good cause.
Competing with commercial channels (and doing significantly worse) is not value for MY money.
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Istvan Fabian Principal Engineer, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe7 years ago
I'd also like to add that BBC programming quality has visibly degraded over the years I've spent in the UK to the point that I am not interested anymore, other than giving it a chance once in a while.
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Alex Barnfield Lead Engineer, 17-BIT7 years ago
How is that a waste of money? We're one of the the few counties other than the US producing quality content, it creates jobs, skillsets and raises our international profile. The licence fee covers a wide range of services, and I sincerely doubt that that much of your licence fee in the long run is going to BBCs drama given the international success stories. There are very few broadcasters that can boast quite the international success of the BBC - whether or not they appeal to you personally even way out here Doctor Who, Luther, Top Gear and Sherlock are all available (just to list those I've noticed). Heck the BBC has it's own page on Hulu (I've discovered quite a few nifty shows such as Survivors which I missed when they were airing in Britain). It's a tangled mess of where funding can be channeled from these success stories, but chances are drama is indirectly paying for it's self. All stopping it would do is leave a nasty hole in the economy only to be filled by usually depressingly bad imported drama.
Other shows such as Being Human have gone on to spawn US counterparts (and forgive me, but the originals tend to, invariably, be superior), and experiments such as in the Flesh, low budget, low key, but quintessentially British, and there's something to be said for maintaining your cultural identity rather than just importing someone elses.

Yes, the BBC's quality, well, output, has declined and that happened almost immediately following putting the squeeze on them just when we did. If anything that's an argument to lift the freeze on the licence fee as it stifled the corporation just as they were producing content good enough to not simply compete, but improve the countries profile. Even flagship shows like Doctor Who suddenly experienced delays and half seasons right at the peak of the international popularity.

Thinking about it, I have little time for television but aside a brief distraction by Breaking Bad, there's little I've found worth my time of late that wasn't British, and that makes me proud. In the current TV landscape I'm not even sure what the point of Sky is. Whilst they've produced original drama it's nothing I care to recall - if that's the output the UK would be relegated to if we removed the licence fee I hope and pray that never happens.

That said I have little time for Merlin - probably a reason that show is lacking an international profile. But a quick look on iTunes (I'm very out of date and out of touch) has 3 of the top 4 offerings from the BBC - given these shows have already been shown for free it implies they are still pleasing an audience, I shall have to check out Wolf Hall when I get a moment.

Edit: A quick google shows that at the time of the licence fee freeze BBC Worldwide sales generated 1157.7m and put 167.5m directly back into the BBC, last year was 1,042.3m and 173.8m respectively. Far from not being able to compete, they're punching with the heavy weights. That returned money would cover the Doctor Who budget (assuming a full season) 13 times over. Given most of that is down to sales of home grown drama I think it's safe to say that's not where your license fee is going.

Edited 4 times. Last edit by Alex Barnfield on 14th March 2015 11:55pm

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Julian Williams Founder, WIZDISH Ltd.7 years ago
When I lived abroad the thing I missed most was UK media. Whether it be the BBC , Channel 4 or Newspapers. Much better weather just didn't compensate after a while. When you've had to pay far more than the license fee to watch anything decent and then had to endure something like 33% advertising even when you've paid the top subscription rate you realise how lucky we are. Through some kind of happen-stance we get all the best US shows for free and far less adverts on Channel 4. If the BBC was privatised it would probably compete for those shows and that's why I think some organisations campaign for that. They know that the UK public could be forced to pay much more for what they currently get without the license fee anchor.
I tend to agree that the BBC output may have declined but only in line with the cost of the license fee in real terms. You get what you pay for. btw '37 days' and a lot of dramas on BBC 4 are brilliant, as is anything presented by Michael Mosley.

In light of Raspberry Pi I was quite shocked by this announcement but it does seem to be a very good idea (and is supported by the Raspberry Pi foundation). I'm not sure how many will get lost and what happens to later school years but think on balance this is a very good thing.
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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee7 years ago
On twitter someone actually said this was a waste of license fee payers money and he wanted Clarkson back on our screens. This is the parallel universe I must be living in!
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Henry Durrant Programmer, SUMO Digital7 years ago
Although this is a surprising and helpful initiative ( a la the BBC Micro ). I would hope that these devices are akin to 1 - 2 each otherwise it would be probably more beneficial to buy a Raspberry Pi A+ per 3-4 pupils, for the same money, rather than provide a more arcane and less capable device per pupil.
Hopefully the GPIO will allow pupils to create some projects with more physical aspects light audio, lights and motors, maybe even some small robots.
Also, there is going to have to be some careful tutoring and teaching of current-draw and voltage, otherwise I imagine a whole lot of these are going to get bricked as kids try to run the power supply Vcc through a GPIO pin etc.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Henry Durrant on 16th March 2015 10:13am

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