From education to employment

Demystifying Cyber – Why should I care about Cyber Skills?

Dave Gibbs, Computing & Technology Specialist at STEM Learning

Our constantly connected world presents opportunities undreamed of a generation ago.

Navigating cyberspace requires new skills and new knowledge, and everyone in every school needs to know how to keep themselves and their community safe.

What do cyber skills mean to school and college leaders, and how can teachers and learners thrive online?

Bearing in mind there are at least 28 different definitions of cyberspace, it might be envisaged as a global domain comprising the hardware, software, data and interactions shared within and between computer networks via the internet. It exists everywhere in the modern world as a largely virtual world experienced through computers of all shapes and sizes. For its users – including you and me – it is just as real, and increasingly sensory.

As a digitally advanced nation, we are especially exposed to the challenges of cyberspace – but also well placed to seize its opportunities. This is also true for the many UK schools which have embraced internet technologies – never more so than during the pandemic when digital platforms became vital for continued teaching and learning.

While digital capability has leapt forward in education, it is critical that upskilling and awareness keeps pace to avoid unacceptable risks to individuals and infrastructure. An increasing number of school ransomware attacks, and breaches of sensitive data perpetrated from inside and out, indicate that complacency is not an option.

Cyber secure from the top

Cyber skills, and the knowledge necessary for cyber-secure behaviour, pervade schools at all levels. Cyber is both a technical and resourcing issue, requiring network oversight by up-to-date specialists, working under the direction of well-informed leaders within policy and budgetary limits. EdTech Demonstrator schools and colleges can help you secure your infrastructure by asking the right questions of technical staff and by making informed investments when equipping or upgrading systems.

Online behaviours can present the biggest risk to your school, making cyber skills a staff training priority. In 2019 the National Cyber Security Centre found that 83% of schools have experienced at least one cyber security incident, but only around a third of schools train non-IT staff in cyber security. Considering 2021 saw attacks on the UK education sector almost double, many schools are leaving themselves unnecessarily vulnerable. NCSC provides a range of resources and training materials to help schools improve their cyber security. These include questions for governors to ask school leaders, and for leaders to ask of those providing services to the school. There is advice and guidance, too, for teaching and non-teaching staff, many of whom are charged with the secure care of data of the most sensitive nature.

Maintaining a conversation between school staff and technical support teams is important, too. It’s no use setting an ultra-secure password policy if no-one can remember the string of random letters, numbers and special symbols it enforces, and they resort to writing passwords in the back of planners. School leaders must take the lead in these decisions, weighing evidence and managing risk through multiple means.

Cyber-safe young people

Cyber security and online safety are closely linked, and are deeply embedded in the primary and secondary school curriculum. Well-trained and informed teaching staff are best placed to provide outstanding teaching, leading to safe, responsible and creative practices throughout the school community – as well as academic success in subjects such as computing and PSHE.

Whether it’s an understanding of cyberattacks; the defensive programming approaches that make applications secure by design; the legal frameworks that govern cyberspace; or the political and societal implications of disinformation, cybercrime and cyber warfare, teachers are able to access professional development to give them confidence when approaching such hot topics. With a range of academic and technical qualifications, leading to attractive careers with salaries that reflect high demand for cyber skills, knowledgeable and effective teachers and curriculum leaders are key to opening the door to great opportunities around the world.

You don’t need to face this challenge alone

There are many ways to build cyber capability in your school. The STEM Ambassador programme brings volunteers from the world of work into the classroom – including cybersecurity specialists – and many more who work in cyber-secure settings. They are perfectly placed to provide real-world contexts, skills and careers information to learners and teachers. The Cyber Centurion and Cyber First programmes offer engaging practical experiences to young people, building awareness and confidence alongside teamwork skills.

Quality assured curriculum resources are available, for free, to support improved teaching of cyber security and digital skills while, for secondary teachers, a range of funded CPD is provided for specialists and those adding computing as a second specialism.

With so much at stake, it is vital that school leaders turn their attention towards cyber. Both their future, and your present, depend on it. 

Dave Gibbs, Computing & Technology Specialist at STEM Learning

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