RPi Philosophy

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The Raspberry Pi Foundation is a UK registered charity (Registration Number 1129409), based in Cambridge, which exists to promote the study of computer science and related topics, especially at school level, and to put the fun back into learning computing.

The Raspberry PI device is a single board computer designed to bring the "Homebrew" back into electronics - getting away from the pre-packaged products, which lack the spirit of technical adventure.

Children are naturally curious - but prising the back of your XBox or IPad does not go down well! A Raspberry PI is cheap enough to break, and powerful enough (we hope) to catch their imagination.

The Ten Reasons

The Foundation (and educators in general[1]) believe there are ten reasons why we aren't educating programmers:

  1. No examples/mentors/role models: "I don't know anyone who codes"
  2. Access: About 20% of UK people do not own a computer (source OFCOM 2008) Those that do are often discouraged from experimenting. In other countries, or in the lower socio economic groups access is even more limited
  3. Expense: "Development systems cost hundreds of pounds, and are hard to use" Home PC systems are no longer supplied with programming tools
  4. Fear: "If I type the wrong thing I might break it" "We can’t let students write or run their own code on the schools system, as they might introduce a virus"
  5. Barriers to entrance: The learning curve to get started, for example to program in VB on a PC is quite steep. Some systems (for example Android) cannot be natively programmed. Others (for example games consoles) are locked down so only authorised companies can write software for them
  6. Culture: "Coding is only for propeller heads/boys/geeks" "Computer people are all like the IT crowd"
  7. Computing is “just more ICT” as presently taught in UK schools – boring, the equivilent of teaching children how to read but not how to write
  8. Lack of skills base in schools: "I know more about computers than my ICT teacher, who usually teaches PE and RI" "I don’t know where to start and my teacher can’t help"
  9. Perceived difficulty: "I can't write anything significant on my own - it takes a big team"
  10. Perceived career prospects: "Coding leads to low paid jobs" "Coding jobs are all offshore" "The school points system/University entrance doesn’t value Computing" "the dot-com bubble has burst"

These are roughly in the inverse order to the ACCTO criteria (Advantage, Complexity, Compatibility, Trialability, Observability) criteria of Everett Rogers given in his book "Diffusion of Innovation"[2].

The Raspberry Pi Device solves exactly one of those problems: that computers are too expensive. By driving the price down to the point where devices and associated software can be purchased with a few weeks' pocket money - and making devices easy to recover or reset to their default state - it should be possible to mitigate reasons 2, 3 and 4 above. The Foundation believes that they may eventually be able to do something about the first 5[3].

Landmarks and tenets

  • It should be possible to equip a class with Raspberry Pis for no more than the average annual spend on subject (say, chemistry) textbooks for an equivilent sized class [1]
  • Use of educational computers should not be fenced into 1 or 2 hours a week of 'formal curriculum time'
  • Devices (should) belong to the student, not the school
  • If it costs money, it doesn't get added to the hardware design
  • A thing that you can plug into things you already own; A peripheral for your TV
  • Follow the tail of the Moore's Law curve down (ie basic computing getting cheaper over time) rather than following the tip of the curve up (over time computers becoming more powerful, with more features, while maintaining their price point relative to inflation).

[1] Eben originally said that Raspberry Pi devices should cost no more than what he thought a school textbook costs. It turns out that it has been some time since Eben purchased a school textbook! A school textbook typically costs $75-125 and has an average lifespan of three to five years before needing to be replaced due to wear or curriculum changes, although some schools keep some course textbooks for much longer.


What does success look like?

Eben's personal view: Another 1000 Engineers a year entering the UK ICT Industry