My first. Long, but I don't care
I've fallen for the bandwagon. I just bought my eldest son (8) a Raspberry PI.
He's already learning Python on a Ubuntu desktop; he's already working with Lego Mindstorms NXT-G software; so why?
For me, it's all about the bandwagon: the bandwagon is good; the bandwagon is a trend; the bandwagon is momentum. Aside from that, he does alternate between games and coding; and if it was connected to the internet, I'm pretty sure he'd just be vegetating on an online minigame site for hours; so the focus and discipline case is definitely borne out by my experience.
When I was 8 years old in the early 80s, I had a BBC Model B+ (still got it actually; and my Atari VCS 2600 console), and I started to learn Basic with it (and my friend's Acorn, Spectrum, C64 etc...).
http://i132.photobucket.com/albums/q38/ ... l_bbc1.jpg
http://www.dataserve-retro.co.uk/conten ... 0guide.jpg
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That's what it's about.
Our parents never understood computers; even loathed them. We revelled in our secret language of games and coding, and poured over the magazines - there was never any idea of where it was heading, but films like Star Wars, Tron, Blade Runner, War Games, ET, Close Encounters, The Black Hole, Alien, Terminator, Dune, The Last Starfighter, ; series like Battlestar Galactica, Transformers, Airwolf/Streethawk/Knight Rider etc... created a cultural context and a sense of a trend and of momentum.
Now although I started with computers early, my parents never understood or cared about them, and without someone to encourage me and take interest, it faded, and I went in other directions, until many years later, where somehow I ended up getting a fancy electronics degree from a fancy uni (by fluke?!).
During that ordeal, I had programming modules in C and Java, and wished I'd been one of those kids who'd coded (at least some of the time) in their room, instead of messing about with protracker and multimedia stuff. Programming was so dry, tedious, it made me feel physically ill just thinking about it.
Some time later, I started thinking about my son's future, and I started to realise a few things...
1. In the future, there may be a digital divide - not simply between the digitally literate and illiterate; but more significantly, between producers and consumers. Initially with cars - in the 80s, our dads and big brothers could be seen with their heads under bonnets and under cars, doing stuff to them; now, we have to phone up for a man in clean overalls to plug a laptop into the car, and download something.
2. Programming seems to be becoming a pervasive part of so many careers. Initially, I began to notice how every form of science and engineering eventually, and very frequently, leads to programming of some sort to some extent; more and more parts of non-SET careers are beginning to show signs of where programming stuff could seep in. Telecommuting is also a liberating lifestyle that can become a real option for people whose careers are in these kinds of technical areas. Furthermore, with so many careers becoming more "programmery", you begin to wonder whether the boundaries between disciplines become blurred, when you necessarily need a degree in a particular area to work in it, when much of the work involves generic transferable skills like coding, project management, and research/referring to technical docs about anything.
3. A kid can learn so many other things through programming.
So what's this got to do with the Raspberry PI?
There are better ways to do everything that the Raspberry PI does, but what they lack is the Jobsian momentum factor... the RPI is generating a buzz about coding in a way that nothing else has. We can conceivably imagine kids taking RPIs to school and buzzing about them in the same way we did about our little machines 30 years ago.
In the same way that "wasting money" on a space shuttle programme inspired generations of scientists and engineers; this little marketing ploy has the potential to inspire generations of future scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs.
What's even more exciting, is that it's British.
For so long we've looked across to Silicon Valley, when in fact our computing heritage is longer than America's. Poor government caused Britain to lose it's lead in computing to America, and the cultural and economic cost of that is incalculable.
When you look at news stories on the BBC, you'll notice that "normal" news consists of morbidity and out and out trolling; but when you flick to the tech news, everything is upbeat and new.
I think we've had enough of the media penchent for talking down Britain and trying to instill this negative attitude about us being a small, rubbish country; and I think things like this RPI are the sort of healthy, positive stories that we should be supporting... so yes, I'm jumping on the bandwagon - I think the potential benefits over the next 30 years could be fantastic.
If the establishment gets behind it, RPI could be the beginning of a new flourishing of innovation and entrepreneurship in Britain, and it could be just what the doctor ordered amidst the rain and the gloom.
I'd like to see RPIs in every school; just as the BBC Micro was 30 years ago.
I'd like to see GCSE Programming as a core subject (i.e. a language), where kids get exposure to Lego Robots, Assembler, LISP, Python, C, Java, and prepared to be able to work as programmers. It should be as fundamentals as the 3 Rs.
My local primary school has an immense computer room, with brand new (expensive) computers in it - and what do they learn on them? Microsoft Office... what a waste!
They could hire PhD computing students from the local uni as classroom assistants; spend a fraction of the cost all those idle computers on RPIS, and have enough budget left for a few Lego Mindstorms sets, and actually teach the kids something useful and fun.
So, until that happens, I've bought into the whole thing, and I'll be doing that at home with my son. I hope that it becomes a nice part of his childhood memories too.