By today's standards, early 1980s home computing was a very BASIC affair (excuse the pun). But for those who lived through it, it was an enlightening period of simple wonder and creative experimentation. In the UK, the odds are pretty good that students of code performed their programming magic using a big beige box connected to a chunky monitor known as the BBC Microcomputer. Many of those early digital tinkerers went on to careers in computing and it's this pioneering spirit that the BBC is hoping to recapture with the launch of a new education initiative named Make it Digital. At its center is a new micro computing platform called, for the moment, the Micro Bit.
"Just as we did with the BBC Micro in the 1980s, we want to inspire the digital visionaries of the future," said BBC Director-General Tony Hall.
There are a number of strings to the Make it Digital bow. The BBC is partnering with around 50 major organizations, including ARM, the British Computing Society, Freescale, Google, Microsoft and Samsung, to bring about the next digital revolution. It's brought together the expertise of some of those organizations to help create a small programmable hardware device currently named the Micro Bit, developed to help youngsters learn coding and programming basics.
Details of the device are sketchy at the moment, but the BBC has revealed that the Pi-like standalone, entry-level computer board will be small and wearable, will have a simple LED matrix display and be capable of connecting with other devices, including Arduino, Galileo, Kano and Raspberry Pi (as well as other Micro Bits). When it's launched in September, the mini-computer will be compatible with the Touch Develop, Python and C++ coding languages.
The Corporation is aiming to ensure that every child in year 7 classrooms (11 year-olds) across the UK gets one of these mini development boards for free, to help address what's reported to be a serious shortage of digital professionals in the coming years.
The BBC and partners are also looking to offer at least 5,000 unemployed youngsters the chance to become the creative coders, programmers and digital developers of the future as part of a special nine week Make it Digital Traineeship course, which will be run from the Corporation's Birmingham office but made available countrywide.
The Make it Digital initiative will be supported by a season of dedicated coding-based TV and radio programming and online content that begins today. Contributions are expected from such favorites as Doctor Who, Radio One, The One Show and EastEnders, and new shows lined up include a documentary on Bletchley Park (which is now home to a BBC Micro in its National Museum of Computing), a drama based on the popular video game series Grand Theft Auto and a talent show called Girls Can Code. The programming and activities are expected to build to a "big audience moment" in September.