“They could end up on eBay” – experts worry about the BBC’s great computer giveaway

A leading figure in computing education has expressed concern that many of the 1 million Micro:bit computers being handed to Year 7 pupils by the BBC this autumn may end up at the back of school cupboards or on eBay.

The broadcaster is to give away its new pocket-sized, codeable computers to 11- and 12-year-old schoolchildren across Britain this October, in a bid to promote digital creativity and careers in the technology sector.

But Miles Berry, senior ICT lecturer at Roehampton University, warned: “I do worry that some sets might end up in the back of school IT cupboards, or sold by uninterested children on eBay.”

He added: “The danger is that schools simply hand these out to pupils without taking time to show what’s possible, or how pupils might make a start on writing code for their Micro:bits.

“I’m sure some will figure things out for themselves using the excellent resources available, but others might not be particularly interested and just not bother, or sell the things on to those in other year groups or outside school, who miss out on the initial distribution.”

Mr Berry’s views were echoed in part by fellow Computing at School board member Mark Clarkson, head of ICT at Egglescliffe School in Stockton-on-Tees, who added: “There are concerns that schools haven’t had a chance to play with the kit first and there has been some confusion about distribution.

“Ultimately, though, it’ll get people talking and get some people doing. Some will end up on shelves or in cupboards but that’s just part of life.”

Mr Berry has co-authored a guide to the Micro:bit about how schools can make the most of the technology and avoid the potential pitfalls. He said: “The best way to avoid these drawbacks is for schools to look for ways to integrate the basics of programming for the Micro:bit into their schemes of work, so pupils will be inspired by what’s possible with this technology.

“Ideally, schools will integrate these into their curriculum for computing, developing some stimulating lessons which get pupils started on a journey experimenting with the device for themselves.”

The Micro:bit initiative was set up by the BBC in collaboration with 28 partners including Microsoft, Barclays, Samsung and the Wellcome Trust, to inspire a new generation of technology pioneers at a time of skills shortages in the sector.

The device, measuring 4cm by 5cm, enables users to code and customise digital ideas, and to develop games and apps. It also has a built-in compass and accelerometer, is Bluetooth-enabled and can be used as a companion to similar devices including the Raspberry Pi.

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