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Braben: "Every kid I talk to says ICT is dull"

Frontier boss working on Raspberry Pi - a portable programming device to help fix "backfired" digital curriculum

Elite creator David Braben has strongly criticised the current digital national curriculum in the UK.

Referring to his own self-taught programming skills on Acorn Electrons and BBC Micros, he worried that today "the equivalent kid to me would probably hate ICT and therefore probably be put off computers for good."

He told the Learning Without Frontiers conference in London today that "every kid I talk to says ICT is dull. They hate it. The majority is learning how to use certain MS tools and how to find the on and off switch.

"That is such a far distance from what I'm talking about, where self-driven learning happens. I think it was very well meaning to try and make ICT universal but I think it's backfired." He called for computer science teaching that "actually taught programming and all the things which are exciting about it."

The problem was particular acute, he felt, for those children who could not use PCs at home. "For those who didn't have access to computers it just confirmed the fact that they weren't interested."

With this in mind, Frontier Developments had created a self-contained miniature computer prototype which pupils could take home with them.

Known as the Raspberry Pi and potentially being trialled later this year, the device is "Really really small, a complete computer, everything you need to program. It can run all sorts of things from project canvas to programming language. It's very, very cheap to distribute."

The unit includes wireless networking, Linux, an ARM processor, an HDMI output and is "utterly indestructible."

The scheme is a not for profit venture which Braben felt could feasibly become widespread. "Imagine if everyone had one at home. It could be something that could be used as a vehicle, because the important thing is to have the feeling of ownership when you get home."

Braben also argued that games themselves could be an effective learning tool. "Games are a great weapon for education. Have you ever heard a kid say 'can I stop playing Mario and go do my homework?' You have to tear them off it. It's a very, very powerful thing.

"There's the huge feeling of progression, there's a lack of criticism or failure, there's huge easy steps. What games do is these very small incremental steps, each of which is motivational – for that reason kids love them, love the worlds represent in them. Ironically they are doing those days and weeks of hard slog. And dare I say it, they can often learn in the process, so long as it's secret."

Key to adopting such methods, he felt, were "great teachers."

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Alec Meer: A 10-year veteran of scribbling about video games, Alec primarily writes for Rock, Paper, Shotgun, but given any opportunity he will escape his keyboard and mouse ghetto to write about any and all formats.
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