Elite and Kinectimals developer David Braben is one of the more opinionated, outspoken people in the games industry. While his opinions may not always be the most popular, he at least has many years of experience to draw upon and this gives him an air of authority which makes him worth at least listening to, even if you don't agree with him.
Braben's latest pet project is to do with tackling the "problem" of information technology education since we entered the 21st century. Braben argues that "ICT" classes in school focus on software-based skills such as using Microsoft Office, to the exclusion of more technical skills such as programming. ICT skills are useful, he argues, but there's something missing.
"In my day," he says, "we had a subject called 'typing' and that, to me, is what ICT has replaced. It's a fine set of skills, but I'm talking about a completely different set of skills that ICT has ousted from schools. In the early days, in the 80s, we had computer science coming into schools, there were [qualifications available]. They've been supplanted by things like ICT, and the number of computer science applicants to universities dropped in the early 2000s by around 50%, which I think is a shocking indictment, and I personally put it down to ICT."
Braben believes that his Raspberry Pi device, a working Linux computer that fits on a USB stick and costs around $25, is the key to getting kids interested in the more technical side of computer science, such as scripting, programming and understanding the architecture of a computer. The device, he argues, is cheap enough to be given away to children in schools, and will encourage young people to explore the world of computer science for themselves.
"A lot of things have been obfusticated these days," he says. "There's so much between you and doing something interesting or creative that it gets in the way. Hopefully this device will be one of the pieces that changes that."
The device itself is the size of a standard USB memory stick, features a 700MHz ARM11 processor, 128MB of RAM and OpenGL ES 2.0 support, allowing for 1080p output via the built-in HDMI port. There's also an SD card slot, the facility to attach additional modules and a USB port through which a keyboard can be attached.
If Braben is right and such a tiny, affordable device is the key to getting kids interested in programming, then it raises the interesting possibility of the return of the "bedroom programmer" phenomenon we used to see in the 1980s.
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