It is going to be easier for children from underrepresented groups to learn the text-based coding skills needed to access some of the most in-demand tech jobs, thanks to Micro:bit Educational Foundation.
The education non-profit has launched a new Python Editor with a more user-friendly and intuitive learning interface to address the hurdles young girls and other diverse groups often face working with the coding languages most developers use.
The editor, used in conjunction with the BBC micro:bit, its handheld coding devices, includes new ‘drag and drop’ code snippets, code structure highlighting, and auto-complete to make it more appealing.
The Python Editor also removes barriers posed by blank screens with prompts, and by pairing it with a physical computer, learners feel their code come to life, which improves engagement across a broader range of students.
Micro:bit Educational Foundation is on a mission to enhance children’s digital skills. It works with schools, educators and big tech companies like Arm and Microsoft to embed computing at a young age and improve diversity in computer science.
It does this primarily through its micro:bit programmable device, launched in 2016 and used in over a third of UK schools, which supports block-based beginner coding and more advanced text-based skills.
“To truly address the digital skills gap – and the digital diversity gap – we need to remove the barriers surrounding text-based learning languages,” commented Lucy Gill, Product Manager at Micro:bit Educational Foundation, speaking with DiversityQ.
“With over six million of our devices in use globally, we have been able to draw on a broad scope of insights and data to redefine how we teach Python and make it more accessible to a broader spectrum of users. This is purpose-designed to make the step up from beginner feel far smaller and to bring code to life with a physical device, keeping learners more engaged and motivated.”
Diversity in STEM
On why she is so passionate about getting diverse kids interested in STEM, Gill said: “The sad truth is that there is still not a diverse range of people in technology. When I started my degree over 20 years ago, there weren’t very many women, and that hasn’t changed over the years as much as it should have.
“Stereotypes still exist socially and within the teaching community about who is a coder and what coding means in STEM professions. And, as well as thinking it’s not meant or appropriate for them due to a lack of role models, some underrepresented groups also think it is too hard.
“Micro:bit Educational Foundation’s aim with Python Editor was to create a product that simultaneously reaches teachers and underrepresented children to help them understand that coding is fun, for everyone and not scary.”
Python is the most widely used and fastest growing developer language in the world and has a broad application of uses, from powering machine learning to web development and data analytics. The UK secondary school curriculum introduced learning text-based languages in 2014. Still, teachers and students alike have struggled to include Python, given the jump in technical complexity, and the focus has been mainly on HTML.
Sarah Townson, Technology Projects Officer at Science Oxford, a Python expert who works closely with children, young adults, and teachers to develop their skills and inspire a love of computing and technology, said of the new editor: “I have been really impressed with the new Python Editor from micro:bit.
“It has already made a big difference in my Science Oxford workshops, helping the students and teachers we work with to take their first steps in text-based coding and allowing the more experienced students to get creative and explore new features. The drag-and-drop code examples are extremely helpful, and the new reference menu is a lifesaver for quickly giving extra challenges and suggestions to my students.”
“We know anecdotally from our community that text-based programming is top of employers’ skills wish lists– and a quick search on any tech job site can quickly confirm the size of the demand! This is an important milestone for us as we build upon our strong foundations in secondary education to help empower teachers to teach and students to progress to these hugely valuable skills,” added Gareth Stockdale, CEO at Micro:bit Educational Foundation.