A RECORD number of tech-savvy teenagers are taking cyber security classes this summer as courses have been moved from classrooms to their laptops.
The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) moved its annual CyberFirst summer courses online, with virtual classes for 14 to 17-year-olds run by qualified instructors through June to August.
Children are taught how to analyse common cyber-attacks, crack codes and defend devices and networks, with the help of leading experts from industry and GCHQ.
The change in format prompted the highest number of applications yet. More than 1,700 UK pupils will be accepted on to the courses – an increase of 600 (35%) from last year.
Chris Ensor, NCSC Deputy Director for Cyber Growth, said:
“Moving this year’s CyberFirst summer courses online has proven hugely popular, with a record number of boys and girls participating and developing their cyber skills from home – in a way that is fun, insightful and engaging.
“These courses offer a golden opportunity for young people to explore their interests in cyber security and hopefully they will be inspired to pursue this further and become a part of the next generation of cyber talent.”
Courses are being offered at three levels: Cyber Defenders (14-15-year-olds), Futures (15-16-years-old), Advanced (16-17-years-old) – all of which are aimed at helping pupils develop their digital and problem-solving skills and to introduce them to the cyber threat landscape.
The first cohort has just completed the free two-week course and feedback has been positive, with one pupil on the pilot describing it as “a great learning experience”.
In previous years the NCSC has offered residential summer courses, but in light of the high uptake of online learning this year it will look to offer a mixture of both in future.
One pupil who took part in the pilot course said:
“For an online delivery of the course, this was amazing. It was a great learning experience and so much more fun than I originally anticipated.”
At the end of the course, pupils receive a certificate to show the course is recognised by the NCSC and the Scottish Qualification Authority (SQA).
Sir Charlie Mayfield, chairman of QA, said:
“These initiatives from NCSC and DCMS are set to deliver a great summer of learning for young people across the UK. Digital skills are the single largest area of skills shortage in the UK and the CyberFirst programmes tackle this issue head on – and have the added benefit of keeping young minds active at this difficult time.
“The road to the UK’s economic recovery from this pandemic will be built on the skills we learn at this time. That’s why it was critical that initiatives like CyberFirst were pivoted to virtual delivery, so they could go ahead as planned. We are proud to partner with the NCSC to deliver these fully virtual training programmes.”
Dr Kevin P. Stenson, chief executive of The Smallpeice Trust, said:
“With some schools still closed and the summer exam series cancelled, it is fantastic to see how many students have signed up for the CyberFirst programme to develop their passion for technology and learn key skills at home.
“The cyber industry offers many diverse and rewarding career paths, but often students do not have access to experiences where they can develop their knowledge and skills. Our aim is to give young people from all backgrounds the opportunity to realise their potential and develop their tech talent.”
Students who have completed the programme, which is run by skills provider QA in partnership with children’s charity the Smallpeice Trust, have praised the experience, calling it “fun”, “comprehensive” and “invaluable”.
The CyberFirst courses were launched in 2016 to help young people explore their passion for technology by introducing them to cyber security.
This comes at a time when there is still a lack of diversity in STEM careers – just 15% of the UK’s cyber security workforce are women, for instance.
CyberFirst is committed to offering the support, skills, opportunities and exposure young people need to excel in this field and to inspire them to join the industry.
Earlier this month, the government’s online cyber security training programme Cyber Discovery – a part of CyberFirst – began its fourth year early to give students the chance to take part in the initial assessment phase over the summer.
For more information about CyberFirst courses: https://smallpeicetrust.org.uk/cyberfirst