Learning to build computers in Belize Print E-mail
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Written by Shane D. Williams   
Thursday, 06 August 2015 00:00

raspberry.jpg - 56.04 KbThere are hundreds of thousands of smart phones being used in Belize today, a country of just over 330,000 people. Some people have two phones, a tablet, a laptop and a desktop computer. Many would not even be able to function for 24 hours without access to these devices. It is this great dependency on and demand for technology that makes computer science the employment field of the future. Unfortunately for Belize, “as a country we are primarily users of technology; we have very few of our people inventing and we know that our people are as bright as anybody else,” says Colin Young, Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology and Public Utilities. The Government of Belize has identified computer science education as key to the country’s development. Young says, “We need to provide the environment through which our people can innovate. Innovation is key to our national development.” This is why the Public Utilities Commission has partnered with the Ministry of Education to improve the I.T. curriculum in secondary schools by introducing the revolutionary credit card sized computer called the Raspberry Pi.

High school teachers from across the country are participating in a workshop at the Belize Institute of Management in which they are familiarizing themselves with the Raspberry Pi. The Raspberry Pi was created by computer science professors at Cabridge University to promote and teach basic computer science in schools and colleges around the United Kingdom. Eben Upton, one of the designers, was managing admissions for computer science studies at Cambridge in the mid 2000’s and was frustrated by the fact that most students were not fluent in the languages. He said that in the course of a decade, students went from entering the university “with knowledge of several assembly and high-level languages to just a working knowledge of HTML, Javascript and maybe a bit of PHP”. Upton and others began working on a device that hopefully would be attractive to young people and get them interested in programming. What the professors created was beyond any of their expectations. Technology reporter for ZDNET, Nick Heath, describes the Raspberry Pi best. He said, “At first glance it looks nothing like what is generally considered a computer, nothing more than a bare board and ports, but it is perfectly capable. The board is powerful enough to stream 1080p video, browse the web or write documents, and it was designed to be portable enough to carry around without breaking.”

Dalwin Lewis of the University of Belize’s I.T. Department is the lead facilitator of the workshop for secondary school teachers. He says that in Belize and all over the world youths seem to be far less interested in programming. “They see it as boring,” Lewis said. “Access to technolgy continues to improve,” Lewis continued, “but the problem is that as more access has been given the ability to understand those technologies has declined so we have young people with a $2,000 smart phone in their pockets but not really understanding how to really use it – create apps and generate revenue.” Lewis says the Raspberry Pi has brought back the fun of computing. The device is like giving paint and brushes to an artist with a blank canvas. The user can take the Raspberry Pi, add different sensors, write programs and get it to act as several different devices. It can be outfitted for robotics; game consoles, cameras, portable computers – the user’s imagination is the limit. Best of all, the device sells for only $35.

Hon. Patrick Faber, Minister of Education, Youth and Sports, says the jobs of the future are in the technological field. “We can be on either of two sides when we are dealing with technology. We can be on the user side, as so many of us are, or we can be on the innovative and creative side of technology,” said Faber. At the opening of the Raspberry Pi Workshop on Monday, August 3, Faber said to the teachers, “This morning I sat down and thought about how much money I've spent in these 20 years that I've been mingling with technology. How many laptops I've bought, smart phones I've used and paid for, tablets, and apps I've bought on the app store. It's a lot of money that I've invested in technology and while we are spending all of this money, somebody is making that money.”

Lewis says that in the United States it is estimated that there are over 1,400,000 new I.T. job vacancies each year. However, the country only graduates about 400,000 computer science majors per year. Therefore, hundreds of thousands of vacancies go unfilled. The opportunities are endless in the computer science field. P.U.C. and the Ministry of Education are hoping that the Raspberry Pi will attract more young Belizeans to the field.

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 August 2015 16:17