Despite the promise of digital technologies, not all communities around the world have the access they need. One way to reduce the global digital divide is to make computing education affordable and accessible to all, regardless of socioeconomic background. A focus on inclusion and affordability empowers young people, helping them develop the skills they need to succeed in an increasingly digital world while fostering an increasingly equitable and diverse technology landscape.
Infinite Network, a worldwide organization dedicated to closing the capital gaps caused by issues like insufficient internet access, strategically allocates investments to global companies that align with their missions and actively works to achieve this. This article highlights the initiatives of one such company, the Raspberry Pi Foundation.
The UK-based Raspberry Pi Foundation set out to inspire young people to learn computer science by inventing a programmable computer for the price of a textbook. Over the past 15 years, its commercial arm, Raspberry Pi Ltd., has become one of the world’s most successful computer companies, selling more than 55 million computers used by engineers, scientists, hobbyists and young people worldwide.
The foundation is on a mission to democratize access to computer education. Although Raspberry Pi computers remain an important tool in this mission, the Foundation is device- and platform-agnostic, supporting learning across a wide range of hardware and software. Their activities include helping schools integrate computer science into the curriculum, promoting informal learning through code clubs and online resources, and conducting research through a center at the University of Cambridge. The Foundation’s approach is guided by 12 research-based pedagogical principles to enhance effective and inclusive computer science education globally. EdSurge recently spoke with Philip Colligan, CEO of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, about the important initiatives his organization is contributing to.
EdSurge: What are some of the critical challenges facing the education sector, particularly in technology and computer science, and how is your organization addressing them?
Colligan: There are two big problems that we are trying to solve in the education sector. The first is to ensure that schools offer a comprehensive curriculum that includes computing, computer science and digital skills and that it keeps pace with technological developments. AI literacy is the new big challenge. Currently, no curriculum in the world has a solid answer to what skills and knowledge young people need to acquire to help them thrive in a world transformed by artificial intelligence. That’s the problem we’re trying to solve through Experience AI, a partnership with Google DeepMind to research and develop lessons that help young people learn about artificial intelligence systems. Those lessons are already taught to hundreds of thousands of young people in the UK and we are now translating them to make them more accessible globally.
The second issue is that almost every computer science class will be taught by a non-specialist teacher without a degree in computer science. There are few computer teachers with a background in computer science, and while these teachers are exceptional, they represent the minority. If you can convince the government or the education system to include computer science in the curriculum, that’s great. This is an easier step. The challenge is how do you support teachers in that education system to deliver that? This requires a large investment in the continuous professional development of teachers. In India, we are working with two states to deliver a computer science curriculum to tens of thousands of teachers with no computer science background.
How is Raspberry Pi working to make computing education globally accessible?
Raspberry Pi’s overarching goal is to enable every school everywhere to offer world-leading computing education to all young people. Additionally, we want every young person to have access to safe, informal spaces where they can use technology. This is where Code Clubs come in. They are the world’s largest network of free computing clubs, run by an amazing community of educators and mentors.
This is a truly global mission; we want to change the world. We focused on six countries in particular: the UK, Ireland, India, the US, Kenya and South Africa. We also have partnerships with non-profit organizations in nearly 50 other countries, supporting them through curriculum and resources, helping them build Code Club networks, train teachers, and more.
Our immediate target is that almost every classroom in the UK is now using Raspberry Pi-powered curriculum and resources. We have trained tens of thousands of teachers here! We work in India and Kenya to deliver their curriculum development and large-scale teacher training initiatives, always in collaboration with the local education system and other local organizations.
What are the main obstacles your organization faces in fulfilling your mission, and what is your team doing to address them?
One of the major challenges is access to technology and the Internet. This is still a problem in countries such as the UK and US, where many young people do not have access to a computer at home for learning. This is even more acute in countries like India and Kenya, where young people from disadvantaged backgrounds have less access to a device, and even if you do have access to a computer, there is often limited or no internet. One of the ways we’re trying to address this, with the support of the Endless Foundation, is to make our learning resources and experiences available offline. The idea is that we can ship a Raspberry Pi computer with all the educational content and tools you need to learn computing without needing an internet connection.
It’s more complicated than it sounds, and cost isn’t necessarily an issue. Political will also plays a role. In addition, we strive to help schools around the world introduce a brand new and fast-paced subject despite the lack of confident teachers. One of the hurdles we face is highlighting the relevance of computing to school leaders so that they understand that it is an incredible engine for social mobility. Computing education empowers young people to create jobs and tools and solve problems in their own lives. This can be transformational not only for that young person, but also for their families and communities. I am very sympathetic to the pressure on schools. I have been a school board chair for over ten years and know the daily challenges that schools face. Putting computing education front and center is difficult, but crucial.
How does your organization measure the success of its initiatives?
We measure success in two ways. First, through where we look at both volume and demographics. We aim for broad access, to reach the largest number of young people possible, but we especially want to benefit young people who are disadvantaged in education or underrepresented in technology due to factors such as poverty, gender, race, ethnicity or disability.
Second, we focus on the learning impact, valuing not only the inspiration but also the meaningful and practical knowledge gained. Our continuous efforts ensure that we consistently deliver positive learning outcomes.
Can you tell a success story from your experience with Raspberry Pi that demonstrates the impact and achievements of the organization?
One of the best things about being in business for more than a decade is getting to meet young people whose lives have been changed by our work. I was lucky enough to meet one of the kids who joined one of the first Code Clubs when he was 11 years old. This experience inspired him to get hands-on with technology. He also got one of his first Raspberry Pi computers and used our free online tutorials to make some pretty cool stuff. He went to a school that used our curriculum and took lessons from a teacher we trained, and he used our platform, Ada Computer Science, to study A-levels, which are similar to the AP exam. He is now studying for a bachelor’s degree in computer science and cyber security at Newcastle University, the first in his family to go to university. Every year there are more and more kids like her whose life trajectories are changed through our work and that is pretty special.