Back to the future

I’m a member of the BCS and receive their quarterly magazine. In July’s issue I found an interesting article that was a retrospective of the BBC Micro, now celebrating its thirtieth anniversary this year. What struck me about those times was the excitement that could be felt amongst people as this newest of technologies had finally become available to mere mortals, and schoolchildren. The BBC Micro, along with its cohorts, such as the Commodore VIC-20, the Sinclair ZX 81 and ZX Spectrum, the ORIC 1, TI-99/4A, etc, brought the computer age to the masses; into their homes, and into their schools.

What I found especially interesting about that time, was that it was an initiative by the BBC to produce a computer that could be used in schools to teach computing. Acorn Computer rose to the challenge and produced an excellent machine, with one of the best keyboards around, one of the best BASIC interpreters and a plethora of peripherals that could be connected to the machine, not to mention the epoch-making Elite, the pan-galactic trading game.

For many years I’ve wished a return to these heady days. When teaching computing, or ICT as it’s now called, isn’t about filling kids with the veneer of the industry, largely it seems how to use proprietary office applications to produce posters and little else, but rather it should be able helping them to have a deeper understanding and application of technology, learning not to be apprehensive of it, but how to exploit it to their own ends, and build a better future with it. This is what the BBC Micro promised; a brave new world brought to us by the power of the microchip.

How about we do this again, suggested the article, and this is exactly what I think. I’ve been thinking about setting up a laboratory in the local community centre where kids in their teens can relive the excitement of making a device do something because they told the computer to tell it to do so. The Raspberry-Pi is an obvious once, but perhaps we can get hold of a few BBC Micros to complement them….