The UK needs a 21st century successor to the BBC Micro to inspire the next generation of computer programmers, according to a new report.
The BBC’s Computer Literacy Project of the 1980s – which created the much-loved BBC Micro computer – was hugely influential in creating a generation of programmers and spurring on high-tech businesses in the UK.
The BBC Micro was a home computer used widely in schools for teaching programming. More than 1.5 million of the eight-bit computers were sold before it was discontinued in 1994, against an initial prediction of 12,000.
As well as inspiring a generation – and leading to the creation of classic games such as Elite – the report The Legacy of the BBC Micro, from innovation foundation Nesta and the Science Museum, points to the continuing economic benefits of the project. For example, the founders of chip design specialist ARM include many of the team who created the BBC Micro.
However, since the heyday of the BBC Micro, the teaching of IT in the UK is felt by most to have declined significantly to the point where it is mostly about teaching pupils to use office applications, with little emphasis on creativity.
And the report said that while concerns about the absence of creative computing in the classrooms has resulted in a series of initiatives, none of these matches the scale, aspiration or comprehensive approach of the original BBC Micro project.
Report author Tilly Blyth said the original Computer Literacy Project closed the gap between computers and people, “bootstrapping our knowledge economy”. She said without a similar new project, “We risk losing a generation of creative programmers, potential entrepreneurs and citizens skilled up for the digital age”.
While innovations such as the Raspberry Pi can help fill the gap, the report said government, industry and broadcasters all have a role to play in promoting creative computing in the UK.
What are your memories of the BBC Micro? What do you think would be a 21st century equivalent?