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One million students to get free Micro:bit computer courtesy of the BBC

In 1980 the BBC decided that to coincide with a literacy drive by them, it would with the help of Acorn, introduce a computer into schools and the Model A was adopted by most schools in the United Kingdom, in December 1981. The computer was also relatively successful in homes as many families bought the machine, which although considered to be quite expensive, it offered possibilities for expansion with disc drives and through a second processor and network capabilities. Undoubtedly the Model A, of which over 1.5 million were sold, resulted in many young people taking up computer programming and engineering at college and university.

So it will be interesting to see if the latest offering from the BBC will have a similar effect, because from the 22nd March the BBC is sending to about a million teachers and students across the UK, a free BBC Micro:bit computer. It is hoped that this very easy programmable computer will enthuse kids and get them interested in technical stuff, just in the same way that the Model A did 35 years ago. The computer is aimed at youngsters who are between 11 and 12 years of age and teachers are being urged to ensure that their school is registered if it is not already.

It is hoped that eventually after all the schools have received their free Micro:bit that it will go on sale, but that is not expected for some time yet and whilst a price has not been suggested for this, we imagine that it will have difficulty in competing price wise against the £4 Raspberry Pi Zero. The BBC has remarked that its focus is on delivering the free units to schools and not on the commercial aspect, it could be next year before the units are being sold.

As a licence fee financed operation, naturally the BBC cannot be seen to hand out free gifts and it has not. The BBC has partnered with 20 companies and institutions for support as well as sponsorship. These include Microsoft who supplied the programming languages, Samsung provided an Android app, NXP provided the USB controller, accelerometer, and magnetometer, Nordic Semiconductor supplied the Bluetooth chip, and Lancaster University designed the Micro:bit’s runtime kernel  and these are amongst the supporters of the project.

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