The Legacy of the BBC Micro – How to boost the UK’s computing skills

22/05/2012

Report calls for 21st century equivalent of BBC Micro Project

A new report from Nesta and the Science Museum out today, The Legacy of the BBC Micro, shows how the BBC’s Computer Literacy Project of the 1980s, which created the much celebrated BBC Micro computer, got the UK programming, and calls for a new push to inspire the next generation of computer programmers.

A project to improve computer literacy in the home as well as in the school, the Project had a grand vision and strong leadership. It was supported by a range of materials (programmes, courses, publications and software), distributed across a multitude of channels, and enabled local networks to deliver learning directly to many different audiences.

The project also produced significant economic benefits - through the increasingly skilled population it helped to create and the high technology innovation cluster around Cambridge it stimulated. The most notable Cambridge high-tech company is chip designer ARM, whose processors can be found in 90% of the world’s smart phones. ARM's founders include many of the team who created the BBC Micro.

The Science Museum surveyed nearly 400 contemporary creative technologists to capture their experiences of 1980s computing, the Computer Literacy Project and the impact it had on their subsequent careers. 86.6% had used a BBC Micro, with almost all of them using it to write programs. 41.9% of all respondents had been involved in setting up their own companies.

The Legacy of the BBC Micro report suggests that Britain is once again in a unique position, with an enormous amount of public enthusiasm for the opportunities presented by computer programming. It highlights the development of new technologies to engage people in the creative uses of computing, but outlines the need for more than just computing in schools to increase computer literacy.

In its recommendations for a 21st Century Computer Literacy Project, the report suggests we need a strong vision for computer literacy, leadership to coordinate activities, a desire to create change in the home as well as schools, to listen to the needs of teachers and learners, technical solutions that aim to be interoperable, supporting resources developed for independent learners, and an active ambition to create economic benefits.

Tilly Blyth, Keeper of Technology and Engineering and author of the report, says,

”The original Computer Literacy Project closed the gap between computers and people, bootstrapping our knowledge economy.

Today there is an explosion in the hardware and software available for the creative exploration of computing, the best known being the Raspberry Pi, but we need to ensure that we don’t just think about technology and schools. Informal learning, broadcasting and parents in the home can play a vital role in creating cultural change and stimulating the entrepreneurs of the future.

Without a new Computer Literacy Project we risk losing a generation of creative programmers, potential entrepreneurs and citizens skilled up for the digital age.”

Hasan Bakhshi, Director, Creative Industries in Nesta’s Policy & Research Unit, says,

“The BBC’s Computer Literacy Project was an inspiration to us in developing our recommendations for computer science in schools in Next Gen. Today's report shows that the impact of the BBC Micro was felt as much at home as it was at school. Current campaigns to inspire the next generation of developers should learn from this and ensure they engage not just with schools, but with wider society as well.”

The full report will be available to download at www.nesta.org.uk/bbcmicro

Tilly Blyth, Keeper of Technology and Engineering and author of the report, has blogged about the report at http://sciencemuseumdiscovery.com/blogs/insight/legacy-of-the-bbc-micro/


Ends

For further information and images please contact Laura Singleton, Science Museum Press Office. Tel: 0207 942 4364 or e-mail: laura.singleton@sciencemuseum.org.uk. @LauraSingleton3

Visitor Information:
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Notes to Editors

Science Museum

The Science Museum’s collections form an enduring record of scientific, technological and medical change from the past. Aiming to be the best place in the world for people to enjoy science, the Science Museum makes sense of the science that shapes our lives, sparking curiosity, releasing creativity and changing the future by engaging people of all generations and backgrounds in science, engineering, medicine, technology, design and enterprise.

www.sciencemuseum.org.uk

About Nesta

Nesta is the UK's innovation foundation. We help people and organisations bring great ideas to life. We do this by providing investments and grants and mobilising research, networks and skills. We are an independent charity and our work is enabled by an endowment from the National Lottery.

Nesta Operating Company is a registered charity in England and Wales with a company number 7706036 and charity number 1144091. Registered as a charity in Scotland number SC042833. Registered office: 1 Plough Place, London, EC4A 1DE.

To download a copy of today’s report visit www.nesta.org.uk/bbcmicro
To download Nesta's Next Gen report of the Livingstone-Hope Skills Review, visit www.nesta.org.uk/areas_of_work/creative_economy/assets/features/next_gen