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The modern day equivalents

Here's the kind of "innovative teaching aides" Schmidt had in mind:

Schmidt said the first batch of 100 "first-rate" teachers would be trained this summer and have bursaries to buy teaching aids, such as cheap Raspberry Pi or Arduino computer starter kits.

Interestingly, the BBC Micro report mentioned both of these as modern-day equivalents of the BBC Micro, and possible candidates for a new national computer literacy project:

Of all the initiatives seeking to encourage creative computing in the classroom, Raspberry Pi, is arguably the one that has gathered most enthusiasm, in the media as well as among the respondents to our survey.

As well as Raspberry Pi, other respondents identified Arduino as a way into controlling simple computers in the physical world.

What's particularly interesting about both Raspberry Pi and Arduino is that they place openness at the heart of what they do (even if not everything about them is open.) I think this is absolutely crucial, for reasons that have just been laid out with exemplary clarity in a keynote speech by Eben Moglen.

The key idea is that perhaps the most important innovation of the 20th century, the World Wide Web, has openness at its heart, and that the trillion-dollar economy that has grown up around it would not have been possible had it not been for mostly young people hacking on code in their bedrooms out of curiosity and a desire to scratch an itch:

That curiosity of young people could be harnessed because all of the computing devices in ordinary day-to-day use were hackable, and so young people could actually hack on what everybody used. That made it possible for innovation to occur where it can occur without friction, which is at the bottom of the pyramid of capital. Hundreds of thousands of young people around the world hacking on laptops, hacking on servers, hacking on general purpose hardware available to allow them to scratch their individual itches – technical, career, and just plain ludic itches ("I wanna do this; it would be neat") – which is the primary source of the innovation which drove all of the world's great economic expansion in the past ten years. The way innovation really happens is that you provide young people with opportunities to create on an infrastructure which allows them to hack the real world and share the results.

In other words, without the ability to explore freely, that natural urge to learn and invent will be quenched – just as it was when the UK's teaching of computing moved from the open world of the BBC Micro, and the enthusiasm and the excitement it generated, to a closed one based on mechanistic learning of how to format Word and Excel documents.

Moglen's great insight is that it is free software and all its offshoots – things like open content, and now open hardware – that lie at the heart of the most vibrant innovation today, and that in order to get ourselves out of the current economic crisis we must foster precisely this kind of open exploration and sharing in all fields.

That doesn't mean just providing a few Raspberry Pis and Arduino kits to schools as a kind of BBC Micro 2.0, however useful that might be. It's much broader than that, and is about opening up knowledge in every way possible, through things such as open access to academic knowledge and wide-ranging open content – and making it readily available to everyone on the planet, whatever their means.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or, and on Google+. For other feature articles by Glyn Moody, please see the archive.

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