BBC begins kids coding push with Bitesize and TV shows

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BBC Bitesize graphic
Image caption,
BBC's Bitesize site includes games and guides to support England's new coding curriculum

The BBC has published computer programming study guides, quizzes and other support materials on its Bitesize site to coincide with the new computing curriculum's introduction in England.

The broadcaster also revealed several programming-themed children's TV shows will be broadcast in the autumn.

The BBC described the move as an "early start" to a wider coding initiative planned for next year.

That will come 30 years on from its last major programming campaign.

The project's organiser stressed it would be based on a wide range of partnerships. That contrasts with the 1980s' BBC Computer Literacy Project.

The previous initiative centred on the BBC Microcomputer, which was developed by Acorn Computers - a tie-up that was criticised for being detrimental to rivals, including the ZX Spectrum.

"It's about giving the next generation a chance to shape their world, not just be consumers in it," said Jessica Cecil, controller of the BBC's coding and digital creative initiative.

"Clearly this is all about partnerships, this is not about us saying, 'This is the way you do it because the BBC says so'.

"Partnership is absolutely the watchword. We know there is a fantastic landscape out there and we want to play our part in it."

Image caption,
Animations will teach children the scale of computer storage sizes

The pledge has been welcomed by existing organisations that teach children coding skills.

"It is the combined knowledge of these groups and individuals, uniquely gained through groundwork and making mistakes then learning, that will provide a strong bedrock upon which the BBC can roll out its year of code," said Emma Mulqueeny, founder of Rewired State.

"Partnerships bring strength and shared learning, prevents avoidable mistakes and unifies an active and committed community. I am hugely encouraged by this move by the BBC, and would counsel everyone to look at collaborative engagement."

Dick and Dom

The new materials on Bitesize cover 40 different elements tailored to the new curriculum, ranging from primary school level up to GCSE exams.

Topics for younger pupils include debugging programs, writing animation code and explaining how the internet works.

Coverage for older children includes algorithms, data representation and binary.

Tech-themed TV shows that will be broadcast later in the year include:

  • Technobabble - an app and gadget-themed show made by the team behind Newsround, designed to encourage its audience to expand its computer skills
  • Appsolute Genius - a spin-off of the existing CBBC show Absolute Genius - in which the hosts, Dick and Dom, interview prominent computer programmers, including the creators of Sonic the Hedgehog and Pac-Man. The show will also run a competition in which one child's idea for a video game will be picked and development of the title will be tracked over a 12-week period before it is released for free to PCs and mobile phones
  • Nina and the Neurons: Go Digital - five episodes of the CBeebies show that will explore 3D printing, coding and driverless cars
Image caption,
Nina and the Neurons will explore tech-themed topics over a five week period

Seeking relationships

Ms Cecil said her team hoped to have signed formal agreements with 10 to 20 third-party organisations by Christmas that would be involved in next year's effort.

There had already been talks with businesses including Microsoft, BT, Google and Samsung, and education groups including Code Club, CoderDojo, De:Coded and Codecademy among other organisations, she added.

Two members of the BBC have been tasked with checking these relationships do not become too close, to prevent them compromising the corporation's commitment to impartiality.

Ms Cecil said her team was "acutely aware" of the risk of being seen to have favourites, but said she hoped to avoid this by securing "a plethora" of partners.

Media caption,

Max: "My daily routine is eat, sleep, code, repeat."

The formal name of 2015's initiative would be announced shortly, a spokesman added.

The BBC needs to be mindful about the scope of its project, given that another venture, BBC Jam, had to be scrapped in 2007 after complaints from the commercial sector that it posed unfair competition to education-themed businesses. The project had been intended to support the government's computer-based "digital curriculum" of the time.

But one tech industry leader is positive about the broadcaster's plans.

"I think it's a fantastic initiative - the BBC is getting back to its roots and advocating for computing education in the same way it did in the 1980s, but with all the advantages of doing it with a modern, internet-enabled platform," said Eben Upton, from the Raspberry Pi Foundation.

"The bits and pieces I've seen so far look very promising. Probably the biggest challenge is to reach people outside the traditional core tech audience. It's only then that coding initiatives will make a difference to the supply of engineers, and to social mobility."

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