Kano: ICT education, easy as Pi!

I stumbled across the Kano Kickstarter project this evening, and felt compelled to take to this blog in order to say what an excellent idea this really is!

There has been a lot of negative media coverage over the state of ICT education in the UK, and from my perspective this seems fairly justified. As far as I can remember, none of my ICT teachers in high school actually had any qualification in the field, and only one or two had any relevant experience to bring to the classroom. The majority were almost completely unaware of anything other than the allocated syllabus, but it only took one particular teacher (who has influenced my career path much more than anyone will ever realise!) with a passion for programming and the subject in general to get me hooked. It’s worth noting that this inspiration didn’t come from the taught subject matter itself, it was extra-curricular activities that really got me started in the field. ICT will continue to be a niche subject until the curriculum is updated to actively engage kids, rather than subjecting them to endless lessons on dry subjects on network architectures and database schemas. I may be biased as a kinaesthetic learner, but I think that the best way to get kids to engage with and learn this subject is by getting hands on.

The Raspberry Pi foundation have done a fantastic job bringing a cheap (Β£30) computer in reach of everyone. I own a couple myself for general tinkering and hacking about, and can honestly say it’s the main reason why I started playing with electronics, and gave me the confidence to start on a whole raft of new projects (such as this) which I never would have considered before. However, selling the raw pieces as they do, this machine seems weird and scary, outside the reach of the majority of educators and parents. While this is not a failing of the foundation itself (as I think they’ve been slightly overwhelmed by demand from the hobbyist sector), it’s crying out for someone to take this excellent system and package it in a more friendly way. Enter Kano.

Kano appears on the face of things to be a very simple project – they’re packaging up the Pi with the majority of peripherals needed to run it, and crucially they’re including kid-friendly instructions on how to get the whole thing working. Their use of the phrase “Simple as Lego” really struck a chord with me – that’s exactly the right way to approach this kind of teaching, by letting the kids play, hack around and figure it out themselves.

I really hope that the guys behind Kano take some of the money they’ve made from this project (it’s already 3 times over their target as I write this, with another 27 days left to run!) and take these kits into schools at a lower per-unit cost for education uses, just to make them a truly irresistible purchase for any ICT department. I genuinely believe that giving kids access to this kind of kit as part of their curriculum will not only educate them, but it’ll help inspire a future generation of hacker nerds – and that’s no bad thing in my view!

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