Dominic Lenton, managing editor at E&T Magazine, discusses PA Consulting’s annual Raspberry Pi competition in his weekly column reflecting on latest developments in engineering and technology. Dominic was a judge at the latest competition.
I can’t have done too badly in my role as a judge at the 2018 finals of PA Consulting’s annual Raspberry Pi coding competition for UK schools, because they were kind enough to invite me back for this year’s event. It was a genuine pleasure (again) to see what the finalists had come up with, as well as having the chance to quiz them about their inventions.
It’s a cliché in this situation to say that everyone was a winner. Having been selected from almost twice as many entrants as there were last year, though, the teams who converged on London for a day of activities had genuinely achieved something special. I was only involved in one of the age categories, but from conversation when the judges reported back on their decisions, it was clear that picking a winner was a hard task in all of them.
Just as impressive as the quality of the entries was the extent to which teams as young as primary school age had thought about a real-world problem they could solve in the area of transport and not just plunged into high-tech projects that showed off their technical ability. Not to mention working on presentation skills that’ll be useful whatever careers they end up pursuing.
Less welcome news this week was the finding from the University of Roehampton’s annual review of computing in UK schools that fewer 16-year-olds obtained IT qualifications in 2018 and that many schools are cutting back on the hours spent teaching associated subjects.
Part of the reason for that is the demise of the old ICT GCSE, which I know from my own experience taught students little they didn’t know already, focusing on how to set up a spreadsheet or create a Powerpoint presentation. Useful skills, but ones they were already acquiring in the course of other subjects. At the same time, though, the more useful but challenging computer science courses that are being phased in to replace it are perceived as difficult to get a good grade in compared with other options taken at the age of 14 and are proving unpopular with girls’ schools in particular.
The Raspberry Pi project can play a significant role in addressing this trend. It was great to see the primary school teams, where girls and boys were equally represented, getting excited about technology not as something like literacy or numeracy that they have to learn in order to then be tested on, but as an environment for trying out ideas and working collaboratively. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that they carry this through into secondary school and beyond.