The Legacy of the BBC Micro

I’ve revisited the NESTA report “The Legacy of the BBC Micro: effecting change in the UK’s culture of computing”.

It’s an interesting and thought-provoking read, covering what I suggested in my “Back To The Future” post reanimating the Computer Literacy Project.

Lets look at its recommendations:

1. The vision for computer literacy matters.

Having no single vision holder is such an important point. The government through its curriculum remit and the BBC through its trusted and uniquely funded broadcast position are the key stakeholders in driving forward any meaningful changes. People at grassroots, and in industry (such as Ian Livingstone) are working tirelessly towards the vision, but are constantly having to lobby back up the food chain to the government to implement change. Perhaps Ed Vaisey should finish what he started with NextGen, grasp the nettle and be the minister that really makes a difference.

2. We need a systemic approach to computer literacy and leadership.

Again, this hints on the BBC stepping up to the plate and fulfilling this role. We have a plethora of community groups already delivering wonderful work – but how much more effective would they be with supporting television and online programming? Encouraging learning across the age spectrum is also vitally important.

3. Delivering change means addressing the home and not just schools.

Again, the BBC (notice the recurring theme) has a huge role to play. We don’t have a single digital creativity programme across the whole broadcast schedule. We do though, have plenty of cooking, gardening and talent-show programmes.

Between 1979 – 1987 there were 11 different series of programmes about computers and computing.

How many local libraries and community groups throughout the country offer an “IT” class which mirrors its education sibling? A dull journey around the exciting world of Microsoft Word, Powerpoint and Excel? What if these contained glimpses of programming, robotics or electronics inspiring independent learning. In my local town of Worksop, the brand-new “flagship” library opened in 2012. There is a single book that teaches coding on its shelves. Its iOS based, using XCode thus requiring the borrower to possess an Apple Mac computer before they can even start. I suspect Worksop may not be home to that many Apple machines …

4. There is a need for two-way networks into and out of education.

The BBC’s educational liaison officers have been replaced by outreach programs such as “Stepping Out” and do great work – but I’m unsure whether specific members of staff have the remit to suck ideas from education, industry and existing micro-networks back into the corporation. Perhaps the BBC’s Fusion Summit event hints there may be more to come in this area.

I don’t buy that “the BBC [does not have] the resources to play such a role”. Utter codswallop. This smoke screen is mooted by councils cutting libraries too. The money IS there, the resources ARE available, the powers that be just chose to spend it in other ways. If an organisation like CAS or NESTA can be proactive in this area, then the BBC can.

5. There are lots of potential platforms; they need to be open and interoperable.

A great point that today there is no need for a single platform – but we have the need for a single and accessible programming language. MIT’s Scratch is a great starting point for KS1-KS3 children, but what then? Python? Ruby? Java? HTML5? A new, cross-platform version of BASIC could plug that gap.

6. Kit, clubs and formal learning need to be augmented by support for individual learners; they may be the entrepreneurs of the future.

Initiatives such as the Scouts’ IT badge are free from the restrictions of computing in schools. Broadcast programmes would also be free to explore all areas of digital creativity. Ian Hughe’s ePredator was one of these pioneers of recent times, exposing kids to a raft of current and future technologies on the ITV show “Cool Stuff Collective”. What happened to that show? Dropped.

Many schools (my own included) run a range of enrichment elements to its curriculum, supplemented by after-school clubs. These are the places were wider and experimental learning should take place.

7. We should actively aim to generate economic benefits.

We can only support a high-tech economy with a high-tech workforce. Who knows what markets and business sectors are around the corner? I tell you one thing, we won’t be returning to building cars or forging steel any time soon ….


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