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Australia investing in future cybersecurity workforce

Image adapted from aca.edu.au/projects/dt-challenges

Australia is looking well beyond the pandemic and even the near-term when it comes to future-proofing its digital landscape as well as protecting it.

The Australian government has invested more than A$ 9 million in Australian Digital Technologies Challenges which provides free online activities for students in Years 3 to 8. As of June 2020, there were 377,000 students enrolled in one or more DT Challenges.

This innovative new initiative is aimed at fostering the cyber-security workers of the future. Through this programme, school students can learn how to crack a code, build Lego using algorithms, create a virtual pet and write a computer program.

The programme provides a series of online activities that are designed to boost student skills in digital technologies (DT) including coding and data interpretation. The content is aligned to the Australian Curriculum: Digital Technologies and the ICT general capability. The initiative is being delivered to schools across the country by the Australian Computing Academy (ACA) at the University of Sydney. The ACA also offers Dive into Code, providing a suite of fun and engaging coding activities for students in Years 3 to 12.

Dr. James R. Curran, Associate Professor for the Australian Computing Academy, at The University of Sydney, said learning about digital technologies is an increasingly important skill.  He opined that nearly every aspect of people’s lives has been remade, and is continuing to be remade, by digital technologies. In the face of the fact that almost every industry is changing, he asked the question, “Do we want Australian children to be in charge of the change or do we want them just to be inheriting the changes that other people elsewhere in the world think is the direction we should be going?”

He felt that currently, the world is living in an era where few people will do just one thing with their careers. Computer science is a highly creative career and students can do a combination of STEM subjects and the humanities if they choose, which can take them into any industry and any career.

The Digital Technologies (DT) Challenges and activities are available free of cost to students in Years 3 to 8 and all teachers in Australian schools. Interested students can start a series of activities that are specifically targeted at the student’s year level, including algorithms, coding, data representation and data interpretation. The activities are designed to be fun and become progressively harder as a student progresses further. An automated marking system provides the student with immediate, intelligent feedback on their progression.

In addition to the DT Challenges, the ACA has also introduced the Schools Cyber Security Challenges for students in Years 7 to 12. These classroom-ready challenges provide high school teachers with resources to support the teaching of cybersecurity concepts, and to inform students of career opportunities in the field. So far, they have had 100,000 enrolments in the cybersecurity challenges.  These security activities are designed to do two things: teach children cybersecurity skills and knowledge and simultaneously give them an awareness of career opportunities available in the cybersecurity field.

The ACA has worked hard to deliver resources to students and teachers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, they added functionality to the website to enable teachers to follow students’ work while they were at home, replicating a ‘real-life’ classroom environment. With the added functionality, teachers are able to see a student’s progression as they engage in the task – whether they are trying to solve a particular question and whether they appeared to be stuck. The teacher now has the digital ability to message that particular student to help them.

The University of Sydney leads the Australian Computing Academy to provide the intellectual, technical, and practical leadership needed to fulfill the ambitious goals of the Australian Curriculum: Digital Technologies. The ACA collaborates regularly with education, industry and the broader tech community to champion a deeper understanding of Digital Technologies and their applications in a range of fields, including computer science, data science and cybersecurity.

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