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As Raspberry Pi takes another important step in its evolution are its academic ambitions being overlooked?

The Raspberry Pi has passed a significant milestone. Launched four years ago, the popular British computer has broken a number of records, one being that, with more sales of more than 8million units worldwide, it has replaced the Amstrad PCW as the UK’s most successful computer.

Speaking at events to celebrate that milestone, Eben Upton, CEO of Raspberry Pi Trading (RPTL), said the latest version of the Raspberry Pi was expected to drive sales even higher, claiming: “Twelve million is the next milestone.”

With Sony’s UK Technology Centre producing nearly 100,000 units per week for distributors RS Components and element14, there is no doubting that Raspberry Pi has been a massive success and that success would not have happened without their support.

But what of its original target market? Raspberry Pi grew out of an idea to create a device that would help students to improve their debug and code writing skills. But coverage of its maker and industrial applications has overshadowed the academic ambitions. Recognising this, Raspberry Pi effectively split into two a while back, with the establishment of RPTL alongside the Foundation.

It’s safe to say that Raspberry Pi still has challenges when it comes to the academic world. Even a couple of years ago, one of the Trustees admitted education would continue to be a ‘hard nut to crack’.

But those 8m sales have brought money to the Pi Foundation, which has spawned a range of activity: there’s a new CEO; the merger with Code Club; free regional training for teachers; and a significant amount of educational materials to support teachers. And all profits from Pi 3 will be applied directly into putting technology into the hands of young people, whether in school, in after school clubs, at home or elsewhere.
Upton says Pi’s popularity is helping, along with other coding projects, to raise interest in computer science and the number of people enrolling at graduate level on computer science courses has recovered from the lows seen in 2008-2009. However, he admits it’s still ‘too early’ to see the full effect of the Pi.

What we can be fairly sure of is that, with more than 1million devices now in schools, Pi will play a significant part in the ‘heavy lifting’ associated with encouraging more students to take up STEM.

Neil Tyler

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