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The government-backed Cyber Explorers programme has reached 50,000 young people at 2,000 schools around the UK since its launch in February 2022, and ahead of the new school year, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) is urging teachers across the country to sign up to access free resources to help secondary school-aged children build up basic security skills, and consider making a career in the sector.
The free learning platform introduces children aged 11 to 14 to important cyber security concepts in support of learning objectives for Key Stages 2 and 3. During the course, students explore a series of cyber scenarios through which they can earn virtual badges and learn tricks and tips from experts.
Various interactive quizzes and activities help them learn how cyber, and other IT skills, can help them navigate the online world safely, and open up new career paths.
Schools taking part in the scheme have also had the opportunity to host career-focused sessions for students, with guests from corporate partners including the likes of Amazon and Verizon showcasing some of the more practical applications of cyber skills in real life.
“The UK’s growing cyber sector is where the technological innovations and digital discoveries of the future will start,” said cyber minister Viscount Camrose. “That’s why we’re focused on breaking down the barriers to entry, and creating new opportunities for young people to gain the skills and knowledge that could kick-start exciting careers in cyber.
“More than 2,000 schools across the country are already signed up to Cyber Explorers, meaning that tens of thousands of pupils can benefit from the resources on offer – and we want to make sure even more get that chance this year.”
Karen Morris, a Year 8 teacher at Stroud High School in Gloucestershire, added: “The Cyber Explorers platform has provided a way for us to teach about cyber skills to our Year 8 students in an engaging and creative way. The fact that this platform is so good yet free is just fantastic.”
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The Cyber Explorers programme is just one element of a much larger government drive to invest in the next generation of cyber security professionals, amid a shortfall of around 11,200 people needed to ease the cyber skills gap, and a deleterious lack of diversity in the security workforce when it comes to ethnic background, gender and gender identity, and sexual orientation.
“I’m always delighted to see more students being introduced to the exciting world of cyber security, and Cyber Explorers acts as a fun and engaging first step on that journey,” said Chris Ensor, deputy director for cyber growth at the NCSC, which also runs the wider CyberFirst programme for under-25s, within which Cyber Explorers sits.
“The UK’s cyber industry is growing rapidly, but it’s facing a skills shortage as a result – which is why it’s so important to have initiatives such as Cyber Explorers which work to uncover cyber talent and support young people across the country in exploring the career opportunities this thriving industry has to offer.”
Oseloka Obiora, founder and chief technology officer of RiverSafe, an East London-based security services provider, said: “Cyber training at the school level is an excellent initiative to encourage young people to pursue a career in cyber security, and now is the perfect time for people to get involved.
“Access to industry insights and real-world resources to detail cyber security concepts is an important step to creating a cyber proficient workforce and mitigate both internal and external risks in the workplace,” he said.
“Threats such as stolen credentials are a common cause of cyber breaches hitting organisations of late, and cyber training is an essential way ensure staff stay vigilant to areas like this that cause businesses enormous damage,” said Obiora. “Whether it be insider threats from disgruntled staff or targeted attacks from malicious external cyber criminals, staff training can provide an important level of protection for organisations to prevent breaches from occurring.”
Teachers can register their students to access free lesson plans, resources and guides at the Cyber Explorers website. The programme is also open to parents and guardians of home-schooled children.