Thousands of tiny computers will be given away in the UK – here’s how to get yours for cheap

Nearly 700,000 BBC micro:bit computers, worth millions of dollars, will be given away for free to every primary school across the United Kingdom in a bid to support the country’s ambitions to become a global tech superpower. 

A new partnership called BBC micro:bit – the next gen comprising the BBC Education, Micro:bit Educational Foundation and the company in charge of the .UK domain name registry, Nominet. This builds on the original scheme which saw one million micro:bit given away to every year 7 student in the UK from October 2015 onwards.

From September 2023 to March 2024, teachers can register their schools on the BBC micro:bit website to get classroom sets of 30 BBC micro:bit computers and accompanying teaching resources. From next year, children from the age of eight will be able to learn coding on this platform in a bid to prepare the next generation better for challenges ahead (hello AI).

Market research done in 2022 found that “teachers feel overwhelmingly unprepared and lack confidence when teaching digital skills” with the majority of UK primary teachers responsible for teaching computing having no proper background on the subject.

According to the brains behind this STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering Mathematics) campaign, its goals are to “increase teacher knowledge and confidence and empower educators with a toolkit of quality, proven devices, lesson plans and inspiration ideas.”

What is a Micro:bit anyway?

The micro:bit (currently in v2) is about half the size of a business card and is powered by an ARM Cortex-M4. While it may be considered as a Raspberry Pi rival, they focus on different audiences. It has accelerometer, temperature and magnetometer sensors plus a microphone, a buzzer, three push buttons,  a 25-LED display, Bluetooth and USB connectivity.

You don’t have to be a student or a teacher to get your mitts on one of them though. Amazon already sells a BBC micro:bit kit for just under $35 which comes with the SBC, a USB cable and a battery holder with two AAA batteries; the UK version comes in at £22 from the same supplier. Bigger packs are available as well as more complete ones.

We reviewed the original micro:bit back in 2016 and found it to be a great way to get into coding. Just bear in mind though that it looks nothing like the original BBC Micro but more like single board computers like the popular Raspberry Pi. If you want to learn more about the BBC micro:bit, here are some valuable resources that we produced when it was launched.

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