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Most Raspberry Pi computers bought by adults, not kids

Raspberry Pi

By Nicole Kobie

Posted on 5 Mar 2013 at 17:18

The Raspberry Pi was designed to inspire children to take-up programming, but the vast majority of the £25 computers have been bought by adults.

That's according to Raspberry Pi founder Eben Upton, who said at most three in ten of the devices were going to children.

"The reason we've sold so many of these is largely is that they've sold to technology capable adults more than they've sold to kids," Upton said. "We think only 10-20%, maybe 30% of the ones we sold have ended up in the hands of kids."

Upton's not disappointed with the figure, as a million of the cheap and cheerful computing boards have sold over the past year, meaning as many as 300,000 are being used by students.

Upton shared the stat at The Economist's Technology Frontiers conference in London, also revealing why he thinks programming should be taught to children.

First, there's the "brutal economic" reason: tech firms are struggling to find people to take programming jobs, and being forced to look overseas.

"We in the UK have an advanced technological civilisation... that runs on engineers, and more than that it runs on people who know how to think like engineers," he said.

He revealed the Raspberry Pi project started after he noticed falling numbers of qualified computing students applying for places at Cambridge University - and that's now extended to tech firms. "Every software and hardware company in the land has a recruitment problem," he added.

It's not only about tech companies, however. "Skills that you learn by thinking like a computer programmer, what we call computational thinking, are useful in almost every other walk of life, other than the purely creative - I'm not going to advocate that learning to programme computers is going to make you a better novelist, but I certainly think it will make you a better doctor, and make you a better lawyer," he added.

"All of our high value jobs in this country are the sort of jobs that that require the sort of thinking that computer programming teaches."

Another reason Upton sees programming as a key subject for children is that the ensuing jobs are fun. "You are effectively being paid money, as a computer programmer or an engineer, to play with toys, to play with Lego, every day of your life," he said. "Who would not want that for their children?"

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User comments

Perhaps Some Adults Have Children

In the stating the obvious category, but surely a lot of adults have money and credit cards and can buy goods online, while children don't. Perhaps adults have children, or teach children. Perhaps there was no news was available today so you printed a ill-thought out article instead. Ho-hum.

By dwlhot on 5 Mar 2013

@ dwlhot
The estimate came from the founder of Raspberry Pi who said:

"We think only 10-20%, maybe 30% of the ones we sold have ended up in the hands of kids."

Note "ended up in the hands of" rather than "sold to".

By Mark_Thompson on 5 Mar 2013


The adults who today but Raspberry Pi computers are the same adults who learned to program on ZX 81s, Spectrums, C64s, BBC Model Bs etc. when they were kids - they didn't go and but them themselves and the adults (parents) who were buying them were not buying them for themselves (many hardly knew what they were buying!)

It is a news story as it raises many questions regarding what has changed and why we can't get kids interested today...

By neil_aky on 6 Mar 2013

My children were happy to play Minecraft

..but far less interested in creating something of their own with the PI, unless results were more or less instantaneous.
When I was 13 I spent two days typing in a listing from "Micro User" and nervously waiting for the tape backup to verify after each save, before the program could run and be debugged,
Now, short of threatening punishment, I cannot get my children to get interested in programming or even game modding.
What are children taught now in schools that makes them think everything should be easy with instant results? I've never encouraged that belief - quite the opposite. All ingenuity and competition has been trained out of them by the education system.
And yes, I had a BBC Micro. I built my first "MP3" player (a digital to analogue encoder) that could record around 10 seconds of sound or music in the Beebs 28K memory in 1987. I suppose that makes me an early "copyright infringer" !

By cheysuli on 6 Mar 2013

"Daily Mail" populism bumps up against reality....

Personally I love the Pi, but as has been pointed-out I also loved my BBC B back in the days when Real Programmers didn't eat quiche....

Schools have taken an enormous amount of flack for the teaching of ICT and 'Computer Literacy, though the real responsibility for the syllabus lies with Central Government.

As with most initiatives sponsored by Mr Gove, the notion that we can somehow turn a generation (or two) of digital consumers into creative programmers is based on a false premise.
His new History syllabus is based on a false vision of some halcyon 1950's when we all sat around in V-neck pullies and gingham skirts learning the names of Henry's wives. Similarly his Daily Mail-sponsored attacks on ICT teaching are based on notion that once-upon-a-time a large number of kids hacked away at 6502 and Zilog assembly code to create reaslms of IT wealth & goodness.
Neither scenario ever happened.

To follow-up this idea of a 'nation of programmers' which was doing the rounds we could equally have a 'nation of mechanics' who all know how to bleed brakes, and tune carburettors; or a 'nation of electricians' or..... I'm sure you get the point.

Computers and technology are things we USE. Some of us love to fiddle and to work-out how it all works, but most people aren't like that in ICT or anything else.

So Good Luck to Pi and all the wonderful work surrounding it that's supporting those (relatively) few people interested by it. Its great and a brilliant addition top out Technical culture.
A panacea for our lack of Engineers and Technologists it ain't....

By wittgenfrog on 6 Mar 2013

Engineer or consumer?

I come from the baby boomer generation and I'd argue that the larger family size made for a healthy environment of siblings who would play together and compete against each other. It also meant there was less to go round so when dad bought a computer it was seen as very special and a novelty. I can recall my brother waking me up at 4in the morning to show me 'little brick out" which he had spent weeks programming on his Apple ii. He was only 14. It seems to me that the next generation of programmers will come from a middle class demographic where being an only child who has a limited social life in real life (but a healthy online one) provides them the opportunities needed to be competent in programming. Like learning any language, one has to immerse oneself in the culture and society of the language users and that requires considerable time and effort. Just as most school children failed to grasp any French while studying in British schools, they will fail to grasp the value and importance of programming because they are not immersed in it. My brother's example above indicates the desire learners must have intrinsically - he was not exposed to programming at school at all but he sought it out for himself. Parents can point their children in the direction necessary to make a start but you have to let them find their own desire. How many kids learned to solve the Rubik cube? They would be potential math PhD graduates, but without the right opportunities, both in and outside school, they won't get there. The current ICT syllabus may contain lots of facts and theory, but without engaging learners with the fascination that these technologies have, such as getting them to build a working model from scratch, it becomes just another list of data to regurgitate for an exam.
Government intervention will not help either because of the leverage from stakeholders in examinations to sanitise the life out of the subject. A full practical exam such as that provided by Microsoft or Cisco that validates their engineers is what is required in schools, suitably tailored to each grade. Otherwise we will end up as consumers of programmers from that nation of the single child - China.

By k_feldmesser on 7 Mar 2013

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