10 Jul Filling the STEM gap with the Micro:bit
As more and more jobs centre around digital technology, and the ‘internet of things’ becomes less of a buzzword and more of a reality, the pressure is growing for the education system to ensure the next generation of employees are prepared for the developing demands of the workplace.
We blogged about ‘Technology, the frenemy of tomorrow’s workforce’ back in November 2014, but in the last few weeks, one of our clients has been involved in a project to 3D print a steel bridge over one of Amsterdam’s famous canals using robots and Autodesk software. The software is a project in itself.
The project will see the robots working autonomously on-site in much the same way as human construction workers, with the aim being to demonstrate the applicability of the technology to larger structural projects. If successful, the project could radically transform the face of the construction industry, with robots becoming a regular feature on future building sites.
The software used to run the robots is just one example of how the future of making things is dependent on people having the necessary STEM skills to lead these innovations. This reminded us again of how important it is for generation Y to be engaged in technology in both a creative and stimulating way.
In June of this year, Cisco CEO and life science graduate Phil Smith told the Telegraph, “The internet of everything is going to change the world. We’ll have pills that can monitor how the body is absorbing them and cars that know when it is going to rain. We’ll see a sweep of digitisation throughout every aspect of life, which means that if you know how technology works you’re going to find it much easier to understand almost any industry in the future.”
There has been much in the media about how the UK education system is failing to encourage its students to engage with STEM subjects, and thus hindering not only their future employability but also the UK’s ability to compete on a global stage. Thankfully, there have been a few projects initiated by corporations recently, such as Barclays’ Code Playground, and ‘Make it Digital’, the latest idea from the BBC which will see pocket-sized computers called Micro:bits provided to millions of UK students aged between the ages of 11 and 12.
This is the BBC’s most ambitious education initiative since the 1980s, when the BBC Micro introduced children to computing for the very first time, some of which have gone on to be pioneers of programming. Take, for example, David Darling, who started coding games at home on the Micro and now runs Kwalee, a smartphone game developer. Another, David Braben, co-developed Elite, a space trading computer game which has now evolved into the highly popular Elite: Dangerous. David Braben is also co-founder of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, a charity founded in 2009 to promote basic computer science in schools.
In much the same way, the BBC Micro:bit will enable today’s students to code, customise and control, spark their creativity and allow them to bring their digital ideas to life. Students will be able to create something that gives instant gratification, whilst the computer has the potential to handle much greater complexity if students wish to develop their skills further. Head of BBC Learning, Sinead Rocks explained in May, “There’s no real way to tell you what it does – because that will be entirely dependent on how the children who get one choose to program it.”
With a wide variety of features such as 25 red LEDs, an on-board motion detector, and Bluetooth Smart Technology, the Micro:bit is able to interact with its surroundings, such as phones, tablets, and cameras. It can be programmed from a computer, tablet or mobile phone via the BBC’s soon-to-launch Micro:bit website.
Other tools in the Make It Digital scheme include the Technobabble “digital maker kit” which allows children to create their own computer games. The Make It Digital tour will also run throughout the summer, visiting 13 locations across the UK and providing opportunities to learn more about the digital world and coding.
We’re excited to see how the Micro:bit and the Make it Digital initiative from the BBC will encourage the digital geniuses of the future, and hope the pocket-sized device lands in the hands of the next Justin Mateen (the inventor of Tinder), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) or Leah Busque (TaskRabbit).