Using a stripped back, credit card sized computer called the Raspberry Pi, employees from RBS Markets and International Banking are running after school Raspberry Pi Clubs and IT classes to teach children that coding can be fun.
Simon Wawra, Delivery Manager in Markets and International Banking, co-ordinates the volunteers to run the practical programming clubs which have already taught dozens of students valuable skills in computing, electronics and science.
“It’s really opened up the minds of kids about what they can do with computers,” Wawra says.
“Kids of my generation used to dabble in programming quite a bit, but you’re almost discouraged from doing that nowadays with the way things are packaged up. Our recent understanding of computers is as black boxes – appliances rather than tools.”
To challenge this mindset, Wawra and his colleagues decided to approach schools directly to offer their help. The initiative is part of Markets and International Banking’s community programme, which supports a range of partner schools with staff visiting the schools regularly to support reading and numeracy schemes for younger children and CV workshops, mentoring and practice interview sessions for older students.
The Raspberry Pi team, which currently works with students from three London schools, and hopes to extend the scheme to a school in Delhi soon, aims to introduce programming and the role that technology plays in the world today. It also aims to broaden the students’ career horizons and encourage the participants to consider a career in technology. .
Anthony Smith, deputy head teacher at one of the partner schools, the Notre Dame Roman Catholic Girls’ School in Southwark, south London, says the scheme is a particular benefit to schools as focus increases on programming as part of the curriculum.
He adds: “The students are also learning to work in different ways, and with adults that they don’t actually know. It’s good practice for work experience, sixth form and university.”
The club also links with the Markets and International Banking equipment donation scheme which donates ICT equipment to partner charities, through which hundreds of Raspberry Pi computers and other items have been distributed.
Snakes and LEDs
Wawra says the club undertakes tasks that can be completed in a single session, and tries to keep things as fun as possible. Raspberry Pi includes a version of Snake, which readers may remember from old Nokia phones. Pupils learned how to tinker with the game’s mechanics, making changes before playing themselves.
Another session has involved hooking the Raspberry Pis up to LEDs to programme light patterns.
“We wanted to avoid any dry beginnings – the idea was to dazzle them with some exciting activities,” says Wawra.
“It has to be fun - we’re really trying to stimulate their interest rather than do their teacher’s job.”