IET works with the BBC to support the future of the UK coding

On 19 March the IET held the first of several Coding the Future events aimed at inspiring and nurturing the next generation of young UK coders.

Image of children with the BBC micro:bit

Developed in conjunction with Schneider Electric Ltd, this first event took place at the company’s headquarters on the University of Warwick Science Park. The drop-in event ran in conjunction with the BBC’s Make It Digital campaign, which this year has given one million BBC micro:bit coding devices to the UK’s school children to encourage their interest in coding. The BBC micro:bit device was developed by the BBC to help tackle a critical skills shortage in the UK technology sector. By working with the IET as one of its BBC micro:bit champions and Schneider Electric, the BBC hopes to create a new generation of coders, engineers and technologists to fill future skills requirements.

Coding the Future

With this in mind, the Coding the Future event gave children and their parents the opportunity to explore their own BBC micro:bit in more depth, offering them practical hints and tips to get the best results from their device, from developing code for their own games, to overcoming tricky error codes. IET experts were on hand to give children and their parents information about the exciting career opportunities available in the UK’s coding, technology and engineering sectors. “The digital world is evolving all the time – and with it, the demand for more young people with coding and digital skills. It’s great to be supporting the BBC Make It Digital campaign to promote the world of digital creativity through coding and inspire the next generation to get involved,” says Alison Carr, Director of Governance and Policy at the IET. “Our collaboration with Schneider Electric to develop the Coding the Future event will give children and their parents some great insight and hands on experience about what it’s like to be a coder – developing the code needed for the everyday computer processes we often take for granted.”

Skills needed in the digital era

In October 2015, a study released by digital skills charity Go On UK said that over 12 million people and one million small businesses in the UK lack the skills needed to succeed in the digital era. According to Phil Moulden, Pre-Sales and Services Director at Schneider Electric, industry needs graduate entrants with an intuitive understanding of computers and a desire to figure out how things work. “Coding is a big part of what we do. Problem solving, looking at a customer’s application and working out how to adapt what you’re doing with that environment,” he says. “This requires a creative mindset, as there are many ways to do this.” Moulden explained that youngsters using the micro:bit are doing, at a very basic level, what his staff do in a more advanced way. “The kids decide what they want to achieve and then work out how they can make the micro:bit do what they need it to do,” he says. “Then they write the bit of code that makes this happen, fault find when something doesn’t work, and add to it when they want to change something.”

Creative minds

This event was one of 6 regional events that took place between January and June this year. So far, IET Faraday Challenge Leader, Dr Kiera Sewell, has seen youngsters use the micro:bit to create simple games, bag alarms, stress level indicators, smart dog collars, doorbells for deaf people and burglar alarms. Then there’s Dr Sewell’s favourite, a parent pester alarm. “One kid wanted a pet tortoise, his parents said no, so he programmed his micro:bit to ask the same question,” she says. “When that didn’t work, the next time he asked and the parent said no, a high pitched buzzer went off.” “The micro:bit helps teach kids real-life ways of working with an application,” says Phil. “You set a goal and make something work to achieve it.”

This story includes text first published in the E&T Magazine article ‘BBC micro:bit computer launched ‘to make coding fun’, written by Crispin Andrews.

The event held at Schneider Electric is just one of six other events that the IET ran across the UK. To find out more about the IET’s work in this area, please visit www.ietfaraday.org/microbit.