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12Jul 2012

Raspberry Pi is not the answer

So what’s the question. Well I believe one of the goals behind the development of the raspberry pi was to encourage Computer studies and Programming in schools. So the question is does the Raspberry Pi inspire or encourage children to want to learn how to program computers?

I am part of a generation of UK programmers who cut their programming teeth on the Sinclair computers. I started with the ZX81 and then moved on to the Spectrum. Others may have been lucky enough to have a BBC micro or something even more exotic. The thing that all these machines had in common was that, if you wanted to see or play something cool, then you had to more often than not write it yourself. More importantly though, software that was available to buy was not so sophisticated that you couldn’t imagine writing it yourself.

Sinclair ZX81 and wobbly Ram pack

Nowadays this is certainly not the case. My 13 year old son was showing an interest in programming so I bought a Raspberry Pi hoping to pique his interest.

I unboxed it with him and then peered at it hoping to be able to point out the memory and cpu etc. mounted on the printed circuit board. Unfortunately these are all combined into one piece of silicon from broadcom so that’s one visual teaching aid it doesn’t provide. I kind of assumed that this was the reason for not putting it in case. Oh well!

I set it up and installed Python and showed him how to write a simple “Hello World” application. To say he was underwhelmed is to put it lightly. He is of a generation who plays games that take 100s of man years to develop and uses PCs running Windows and very complicated applications. There is too big a disconnect between what he can achieve using Python and what he sees is possible.

Also although the Raspberry pi is a not particularity powerful machine it is still powerful enough to run Quake and as soon as he realised this that’s what interested him most.

He is, more at my insistence than for any other reason, persevering with Python. However he does not seem to be getting the same feeling of achievement and excitement as I did at his age programming my ZX81.

We’ve also found it much more convenient and easier to run the Python IDE on a already owned Mac Mini leaving me wondering what I bought the Raspberry Pi for!

How do we interest this generation in becoming programmers as the UK government is hoping? Please let me know your thoughts….

1 Comment »

  1. What was the question? Try thinking outside your little box,and show your son that there is a lot more to computers and programming than just PCs and games. Use your Pi to build a robot, weather station, home automation, etc. I’m going to use hundreds of Pis as as environmental data loggers and remote telemetry interfaces to GSM cell phones.

    Comment by Chris Parrish — July 26, 2012 @ 12:37 pm

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