Google’s philanthropic arm, Google Giving, has awarded a grant to the U.K.’s Raspberry Pi Foundation to fund 15,000 U.K. schoolchildren to get their very own Raspberry Pi micro computer to learn to code.
The size of the Google Giving grant has not been disclosed by Google but the Foundation describes it as “generous”, and the Model B Pi, which the kids will be getting, retails for $35 — so taken at face retail value the grant is worth $525,000 for the hardware alone. Add in additional teaching materials, support and resources and it’s likely to be worth considerably more than half a million dollars. Update: TechCrunch understands the total grant is worth $1 million — which covers the cost of the devices plus support and teaching materials to ensure the kids get the most out of their free Pi.
Announcing the award in a blog post today, the Foundation revealed Google’s chairman Eric Schmidt spent the morning with Raspberry Pi founder Eben Upton at a local school in Cambridgeshire — Chesterton Community College — teaching kids about coding and doubtless geeking out over the details of building a $35 micro computer.
The first “tranche” of free Pis were also donated to the class of 12 year-old school pupils, according to Google.
The Foundation said it will be working with Google and six U.K. educational partners to “find the kids who we think will benefit from having their very own Raspberry Pi”. The six partners are CoderDojo, Code Club, Computing at Schools, Generating Genius, Teach First and OCR — each of whom will be provided with a supply of Pis to give to kids who show interest in computer science courses.
As well as helping the Foundation identify the lucky kids who will get free Pi, the six organisations will also be providing additional help and support. For example, OCR will be creating 15,000 free teaching and learning packs to go with the Raspberry Pis.
The Foundation, which was set up with a mission to get more U.K. schoolkids learning to code, added:
We’re absolutely made up over the news; this is a brilliant way for us to find kids all over the country whose aptitude for computing can now be explored properly. We believe that access to tools is a fundamental necessity in finding out who you are and what you’re good at. We want those tools to be within everybody’s grasp, right from the start.
The really good sign is that industry has a visible commitment now to trying to solve the problem of CS education in the UK. Grants like this show us that companies like Google aren’t prepared to wait for government or someone else to fix the problems we’re all discussing, but want to help tackle them themselves. We’re incredibly grateful for their help in something that we, like them, think is of vital importance. We think they deserve an enormous amount of credit for helping some of our future engineers and scientists find a way to a career they’re going to love.
More than one million Raspberry Pis have been sold since launch, although it’s not clear how many of those have gone to kids — as the Pi has been especially popular among the enthusiast adult maker community.
Commenting on the grant in a statement, Google’s Schmidt said: “Britain’s innovators and entrepreneurs have changed the world — the telephone, television and computers were all invented here. We’ve been working to encourage the next generation of computer scientists and we hope this donation of Raspberry Pi’s to British school pupils will help drive a new wave of innovation.”
It’s not the first time Schmidt has made comments about the British education system. In August 2011, in a keynote speech at the Edinburgh TV festival, he slammed the system for failing to teach computer science and focusing instead on telling kids how to use software. “That is just throwing away your great computing heritage,” he said at the time.
Since then, the U.K. government has been knocking heads together to try to get a handle on the problem — announcing plans to develop new “IT-centric” qualifications to teach schoolkids core principles of computer programming, and measures to attract and train a new generation of computer science teachers. It’s currently carrying out a curriculum review to come up with a new program of study for the subject — but an all-new computer science curriculum is not due to land in September 2014.
In a statement provided today, the Foundation’s Upton said: “We hope that our new partnership with Google will be a significant moment in the development of computing education in the UK. We believe that this can turn around the year-on-year decline in the numbers and skill sets of students applying to read Computer Science at university.”
Asked why Google is gifting Pis to the U.K. — rather than a developing nation — Upton told TechCrunch: “As I understand it, Google like to support the community in each of the countries where they have a presence. They have a very large engineering organization in the UK now, and so it makes sense to do this sort of activity here. The fact that Eric has a well-known interest in the state of computing education in the UK makes it all the more relevant.”