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A Slice of Raspberry Pi, Anyone?

Authors Jason Self

License GPL-3.0-or-later


A Slice of Raspberry Pi, Anyone?                                                            Home

A new computer system has come out: the Raspberry Pi. It's a computer on a single           Linux-libre
circuit board. An all-in-one processor, graphics card and memory cache slapped on a
board with a few I/O ports and a memory card slot. It won't win any design awards; but
then, it's not intended to.

Pi is, of course, a transcendental number. As every schoolkid knows, Pi is the ratio of     How To
a circle's circumference to its diameter and has an infinitely non-recurring decimal
part. In other words, a very special, unique and remarkable number. Which is,               Articles
coincidentally, exactly what the makers of the new Raspberry Pi computer want us to
think of their device. Is it really?                                                        RSS Feed
The Raspberry Pi Foundation is hoping to re-introduce a passion for programming
amongst geeks. It's certainly true that many schools do base much of their teaching         About Me
on the use of proprietary software, with little or no reference to how they work. Even if
the school did decide to teach that, they often continue to use proprietary software in     Contact Me
those classes. It seems strange to me that schools teach people programming using
proprietary software. Schools should use and teach free software exclusively. Some          GPL enforced
do. I wish they all did. Being proprietary, you're not allowed to study the system that's
an implementation of what it is that you're learning. It seems that you're not really
learning much of anything, except maybe how to be dependent on proprietary                   If you appreciate any of the things I
software.                                                                                    am doing you can make a donation.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation hopes to redress this by introducing a very cheap
motherboard without peripherals into schools. Basically a single-chip processor with
onboard graphics and 256MB of RAM, soldered onto a circuit board with USB,
Ethernet and video outputs, the Pi seells for $35 and is intended to become the future
of IT teaching in schools.

Will it work? The biggest problem I see is that the Raspberry Pi itself requires
proprietary software so it's not really different from any of the other devices that were
used previously. Sure students will be able to learn to write programs in Python, BBC
Basic and Perl but then again they were already able to do that before the Raspberry
Pi. The students that will be the most curious about computers and programming and
how they work deep down and who would therefore benefit the most from having a
100% free software stack all the way down are the ones that will be directly prohibited
from fully studying everything about the Raspberry Pi. They won't have access to the
source code for everything. If they ask their professor about how that part of the
Raspberry Pi works they'll be told it's a secret.

Whether the Raspberry Pi Foundation will succeed in their lofty education aims
remains to be seen but if they're serious about their goal they'll quickly move to
address this problem of proprietary software and have a device where students can
really and truly learn.

Copyright © 2012 Jason Self. See license.shtml for license conditions. Please copy and share.