Why a $35-Raspberry Pi is better than the New iPad

by Nestor E. Arellano

A few weeks before the release of the New iPad, the United Kingdom-based Raspberry Foundation offered up for sale the device that you see in the picture above.

Looking more like a misplaced part from a computer, the Raspberry Pi couldn’t be more different from the sleek and sexy tablet from Apple. Ungainly as it may appear, the Pi holds a certain DIY charm that the iPad could only dream of.

The pint-sized PC has a daunting mission to accomplish: rekindle the interest in computer studies among British students and teach children programming.

“We just want kids to get kids programming,” Eben Upton, founder and trustee of the Raspberry Foundation was quoted as saying by the BBC News. The foundation even has plans for programming competitions offering ₤1,000 or more to children who can come up with original programming.

In the country where the computer is considered to have been invented, educators are worried that enrolment in computer courses is increasingly declining. The foundation hopes that the Pi can improve the doleful state of Britain’s computer science education. There has been a 60 per cent decline in the number of British students obtaining an A-level in computing science since 2003. Canada, as well, is facing its own tech education problems.

Judging from the massive demand for the Pi which caused the Web sites of the device’s distributor’s to crash, kids and PC enthusiasts from around the world will also be benefiting from what the Pi has to offer.

But the goal is not only to increase enrolment in computer sciences, according to Upton. The foundation also aims to “increase the range of things they (children) know how to do when they arrive (in university).”

In the U.K. and North America as well, a vast majority of children are growing up with an excellent capability of knowing how to use technology but very little awareness of how the technology works. For many people, the devices they use and enjoy are a mystery. This is indeed very sad because if today’s students are to thrive in the technological future they would need to understand its different facets and what makes it work.

Partly to blame is the flood of wonderful tech devices such as the iPad that enable users to do just about anything – play games, watch video, listen to music, collaborate online, edit images, movies and documents you name it. But sad to say, they are very expensive and built on Steve Job’s “one widget philosophy.”

As wonderful an experience as these devices  may offer,  it is a very much controlled experience. The ordinary user can’t even open up the devices without special tools.

Thewonderful thing about Pi is that it brings back that Heathkit concept that taught countless children (even Steve Jobs) how to build their own radio sets and the basics of electronics. The Pi’s programmability is not hidden behind some impenetrable shiny casing or complicated code. It is not loaded with proprietary software protected by laws that prevent users from altering them but rather relies on open sourced software.

The Pi runs on Linux flavours including Fedora, Debian and ArchLinux.

“A student can pick it up and say ‘Let’s see what I can do with it’ and actually start doing something with it,” said Max Abed, software researcher atSenecaCollegeand member of the team that work on the Pi project’s software component. It is the perfect programming toy to tinker with, he said.

Not everything the children do may turn our fine. They could make mistakes but that wouldn’t be much of a problem. They can learn from their mistakes and try again. “Even if a kid ends up breaking it, at $35 the Pi won’t be that hard to replace,” said Abed.

Patents and inflated prices has raised technology far above the reach of many users.

Jim Zemlin also points out in his bog Why the next Steve Jobs needs a Raspberry Pi not patents that  patents and the threat of litigation are holding back innovators.

“The only thing that holds back the next Steve Jobs is  being sued by the company started by the late Steve Jobs,” said Zemlin.

Nestor Arellano

Do you have a Raspberry Pi? How are you using? What are your plans for it? We’d like to know. Tell us your story or send us some images of your project.


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