Embracing cyber safety
Five years ago I attended a Christmas Cyber Lecture - an event that sparked a lot of interest from pupils and within myself, too. Since then I have continued to get involved in cyber security and embrace as many cyber initiatives as I can in order to expose pupils to this ever-growing area that impacts all aspects of industry.
With the world becoming ever-more connected, it is imperative that we educate pupils on how to stay safe online and make them aware of the potential dangers they face. It is equally important to highlight the incredible opportunities that are emerging in this multifaceted, exciting and innovative sector. As teachers, it is vital that we inform pupils of all opportunities in Computing Science, particularly for girls who are under-represented in the industry. I am an advocate for girls in computing and I am fascinated by the number of inspirational Scottish women in technology who I can use as role models to show exactly what is possible.
For teachers I understand the hesitancy of delving into the world of cyber security, particularly if you don’t have a background in this area. I did not either. But my message to teachers in Scotland would be to fully embrace all of the incredibly exciting initiatives that are available to schools to help expose pupils to the wonders of cyber security. This is something that the Computing Science department at St Kentigern’s Academy has done. I am immensely proud to be part of this team and to work with such creative, supportive and knowledgeable colleagues.
The great news for teachers is that there are a number of cyber-specific initiatives that our department has embraced and found to be successful over the years.
Attending the Christmas Cyber Lectures (www.christmascyberlectures.org) is a must. Credit must be given to all who organise and participate in this event, particularly the extremely talented and passionate Dr Martin Beaton, Scotland’s Cyber Security Cluster Co-ordinator. The lectures, which are being funded this year by Scottish Government in partnership with UK Government, are innovative, exciting, funny and pitched perfectly to the right age group of secondary pupils; it is guaranteed to pique the interest of pupils who will leave in awe, desperate to learn more.
The National Cyber Security Centre CyberFirst girls competition, funded by the UK Government, is another winner. Last year was the inaugural UK-wide competition in which participants were challenged to work in teams to solve a variety of puzzles, which were extremely high quality and provided a good challenge. What was great was that this approach made it extremely accessible and inclusive to pupils of all ages.
The Cyber Security Challenge UK (www.cybersecuritychallenge.org.uk) is another excellent initiative that is funded by the UK and Scottish Government in partnership with the National Cyber Resilience Leaders Board. We at St Kentigern’s have participated in the Cyber Games competition with some succes. Last year, for example, we had the only all-girl team called the Turing Testers, who came second in the final. We lost to worthy winners from Kyle Academy, who were supported by Scott Hunter, 2016’s ‘Cyber Security Teacher of the Year’. St Kentigern’s Academy will again be represented in this year’s final of the Cyber Games alongside a plethora of other fantastic schools in Scotland.
The Cyber Security Challenge UK also offers other initiatives, such as Cyber Centurions, which we are running for the first time this year. It is has been a big hit with pupils across all year groups and is the most realistic cyber competition we have participated in. It also provides the UK’s first Qufaro Cyber Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) where, upon successful completion, pupils are credited UCAS points. It’s fantastic to see such a level of recognition and Deloitte has generously sponsored this year's event, removing a major barrier for schools considering this course by reimbursing any successful student’s fees.
We’ve also had three pupils attend the National Cyber Security summer camps at the University of Glasgow, which are run in a number of other Scottish universities as well. This has been an experience that has left a lasting impact, especially on the girls involved.
There’s also the fantastic Discover Cyber Skills Programme by Skills Development Scotland (www.skillsdevelopmentscotland.co.uk/news-events/2017/november/finding-the-cyber-security-superheroes-of-the-future/), which was recently launched in schools. This initiative is also funded by Scottish Government in partnership with UK Government. This programme intends to inspire the next generation of cyber secuity professionals through a series of fun and engaging events. It also plans to engage with industry, raising awareness among employers as to the number of additional routes young people can take to enter the cyber sector.
There are so many fantastic initiatives for teachers to take advantage of and the best part is that they are all made up of ‘pick up and play’ materials. Considering the challenges that the profession as a whole currently faces, anything that takes the burden from teachers of creating resources, especially in areas they may not be confident in, is extremely welcome. For most initiatives, materials have already been produced by the experts and all teachers need to do is just facilitate and promote, so why not get involved?
My involvement in cyber security at St Kentigern’s has been extremely rewarding. Just recently, I was recognised as the ‘Cyber Security Teacher of the Year’ at the Scottish Cyber Awards. Better yet, three of my extraordinary pupils had their efforts recognised as they were nominated in the ‘Outstanding Cyber Team of the Year’ category. Our success did not end there as the Turing Testers girls won the overall award of the night, the ‘Champion of Champions’. All this has left me feeling so inspired that I am now working with my talented colleague, Brendan McCart, to create our own new initiative for schools in Scotland, which will have a specific focus on getting girls into computing. We would love to get as many schools involved as possible, so watch this space!