Bridging the gap: How teachers are shaping the way cyber security education evolves

Bridging the gap: How teachers are shaping the way cyber security education evolves

Published: 18 Jun 2024, 7:04 p.m.

With 15 years’ experience teaching in secondary schools, Neha Ramanandi is familiar with the needs and challenges of higher education – knowledge that she has been bringing to bear on the ongoing development of CyBOK’s educational resources. In her position as Head of Computer Science and CAS Leader for Bristol Secondary Schools (part of the Bristol Free School network, an inclusive 11-16 comprehensive secondary school that is part of the UK government’s Free Schools initiative) she is currently rolling out the project’s resources for Key Stage 3, helping students to engage in and be inspired by the world of cyber security.

How did you come across CyBOK and what inspired you to connect with the team?

I initially came to know about CyBOK through LinkedIn. My work in the field means I regularly see the project’s articles and I felt inclined to learn more about the resources they offer for higher education. It’s inspiring to know that there is a body that is making people aware of this field, not just schools but more generally. At the start of 2024, I was approached by Chris Hotchin from TechSPARK about developing some new resources for Key Stage 3 students (Year 7, 8 and 9). It’s been a continuous learning journey ever since, as I’ve worked with Awais and the team.

How did you and the team approach creating and implementing resources for younger students?

CyBOK already has a wealth of resources available for university students so our focus was on creating a knowledge base that can help students gain access to the knowledge they need at an earlier stage of their journey. When we talk about university and school students it’s a completely different remit – Key Stage 3 students are very young (aged 11-12) – so we wanted to create a staggered curriculum that would enable students to grasp the fundamentals in a way that was accessible, comprehensive and engaging.

What approach did you take to delivering these resources, so as to preserve the depth of detail while sparking the interest of a younger audience?

CyBOK already has a lot of engaging materials including interactive questionnaires, comics, games, perception testing tools and graphic novels. These have proved really useful because they offer us a way of approaching quite dense and important material in a way that is relatable and exciting to younger people. We took the contents of KS3 resources – in this case, looking at Malware and Attack Technologies, as well as Cryptography – and applied the knowledgebase to the real-world example of the 2017 WannaCry ransomware attack. As this was quite a famous incident (it impacted 200,000 computers across 150 countries), the students could get their heads around that and appreciate the importance of malware and trojan horse attacks, for instance.

What has the response been among the pupils?

Our students are growing up and going through the schooling system in an era where there are more jobs in the sector, so for them to understand that their newfound knowledge could be applied in ways that might impact their future is very inspirational for them. Right now, our Key Stage 3 students receive a full term of cyber security education using CyBOK resources. In Key Stages 4 and 5, we go into more depth. They’ve been quite excited to explore the subject, and they all feel much more confident when talking about it.

All of our Year 8 students (aged 12), for instance have worked with these materials – 210 of them so far. I have 1,200 students and plan to keep using these resources for upcoming years. Every year we’ll receive more students and grow the impact year by year.

As a teacher, what has been the impact on your personally and professionally, to collaborate with the CyBOK team?

It’s been amazing for me! As teachers, we really want and need the support of a wider network of experts. As Head of Department, I am glad to be able to get guidance and advice from the CyBOK team because that helps to shape my approach in a way that ultimately benefits the students. It’s a great learning journey for me personally too – I have the advantage now of understanding what university students are doing, which in turn, informs my approach to working with younger students who may end up on that academic trajectory. CyBOK’s approach to outreach plays an important part in bridging this gap between schools and university education, because each of us needs to understand what is happening across the educational spectrum. In the context of a growing industry where there is a huge need for more skilled staff, bridging this gap means that we are preparing students to take their place in a new digital era.

How has your work with CyBOK helped to further the aims of Bristol Free School’s Computer Science Curriculum?

Our main ambition is to provide students with as much enrichment and opportunities as we can, not only via classroom teaching but also in terms of the external environment. Our curriculum in this regard is particularly focused on helping students to gain a confident and competent understanding that can further their own ambitions. This collaboration with CyBOK has definitely furthered those ambitions to make sure we as teachers, and our students, have access to the knowledge that is going to be invaluable to all of us. As teachers, we tell students there are so many jobs to pursue in this field, but without guidance, they don’t have any experience or routes to explore – CyBOK is fantastic for providing conferences, publications and work experience opportunities that can help students who are interested.

What do you foresee as the next steps in terms of how education can meet the needs of a rapidly evolving digital society?

We’ve been teaching cyber security for at least five years now at secondary level, and we are making great strides in that but there is obviously still a lot of work that needs to be done. There are lots of aspects that we are teaching in Key Stages 3, 4 and 5. However, it can be quite piecemeal, so what we are trying to do is to create a comprehensive pathway with a structured approach. Personally, I would like CyBOK to create even more resources! I also want to spend more time understanding how I can use the existing materials – there is so much available that the potential is vast.