Cyber security lessons offered to schools in England (BBC)

Schoolchildren in England will be offered lessons in cyber security in a bid to find the experts of the future to defend the UK from attacks.

It is hoped 5,700 pupils aged 14 and over will spend up to four hours a week on the subject in a five-year pilot.

Classroom and online teaching, “real-world challenges” and work experience will be made available from September.

A Commons committee last week warned that a skills shortage was undermining confidence in the UK’s cyber defences.

The risk that criminals or foreign powers might hack into critical UK computer systems is now ranked as one of the top four threats to national security.

‘Cutting-edge skills’

Russia in particular is suspected of planning sustained attacks on Western targets.

Cyber security is a fast-growing industry, employing 58,000 experts, the government says, but the Public Accounts Committee has warned it is proving difficult to recruit people with the right skills.

UK’s cyber security defences questioned

Russian hacks ‘aim to destabilise the West’

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is providing £20m for the lessons, which will be designed to fit around pupils’ current courses and exams.

Digital and Culture Minister Matt Hancock said: “This forward-thinking programme will see thousands of the best and brightest young minds given the opportunity to learn cutting-edge cyber security skills alongside their secondary school studies.

‘Pipeline of talent’

“We are determined to prepare Britain for the challenges it faces now and in the future and these extra-curricular clubs will help identify and inspire future talent.”

The government is already providing university funding and work placements for promising students.

An apprenticeship scheme has also begun to support key employers to train and recruit young people aged 16 or over who have a “natural flair for problem-solving” and are “passionate about technology”.

Steve Elder, 20, who is a cyber security apprentice with BT, told BBC Radio 5 Live that educating young people about the risks and vulnerabilities of the cyber security world would help the UK prepare for the future.

He added: “Getting young people involved and getting them taught from a young age will allow them – even in their home environment – to protect themselves, before it has to come to people at a specialist level.”

Finger on computer keyboardImage copyrightPA

Mr Hancock told the BBC he wanted to ensure the UK “had the pipeline of talent” it would need.

Cyber security expert Brian Lord, a former deputy director at GCHQ, told BBC Breakfast that the scheme was an “essential initiative” to recruit more people into the profession.

He added: “There is perception that cyber security is all about techno geeks who have long hair, glasses, wear heavy metal t-shirts and drink red bull.

“There are those, and they do an extraordinarily good job. But there is a whole range of other activities… that can appeal to a wide cross section of children, graduates and apprentices, and at the moment they don’t know what [is on] offer.

“The more exposure [children] can get [the more it will] prepare them for a future career and, as that generation needs to understand how to be safe online, you get a double benefit.”


Millennials who chose an apprenticeship over university are just as happy with their lives (IoE)

Millennials who chose an apprenticeship over university are just as happy with their lives

26 January 2017

Twenty-somethings who pursued vocational training rather than university report being just as satisfied with their lives, according to new research.

Researchers from the UCL Institute of Education and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine examined information on more than 9,500 young people living in England, who were born in 1989-90 and are being followed by a study called Next Steps. They found that there was no ‘right way’ to transition into adult life. Instead, young people followed a range of viable paths after completing compulsory schooling at age 16.

Mechanic female

Forty-five per cent of young people went into higher education, and a similar proportion – 42 per cent – entered the labour market.

Just over a third moved quickly into work after finishing school, with some continuing their studies for a limited period of time before doing so. Roughly 6 per cent pursued vocational training before getting a job.

At age 20, the young people were asked how satisfied they were with how their lives had turned out so far. There were no significant differences between those at university, those in apprenticeships or those in work.

Nearly 13 per cent of young people spent prolonged periods of time not in education, employment or training (NEET) after they finished school. They were the least satisfied with their lives at age 20.

The authors suggested that work may offer an opportunity to feel valued, to belong and to make a contribution for young people who do not go to university. However, if young people struggle to find meaningful and challenging work, it can be detrimental to their wellbeing.

Young people’s paths took a different turn if they faced multiple socioeconomic risks, including growing up in a family where the parents had little education, the gross household income was less than £10,400 per year, or where none of the parents were working.

At age 14, young people facing the most risks had slightly lower expectations of going to university, and less confidence in their academic ability than their more privileged peers. They also tended to be less engaged with school at this age.

By the time they finished school, young people from disadvantaged families were more likely than their better-off peers to go straight into work, or to end up being NEET. Moreover, living in a deprived neighbourhood increased the likelihood of going into vocational training instead of higher education.

Interestingly, disadvantaged young people were at higher risk of being NEET if they felt they were very academically able. This was true regardless of how well they had actually done at school. The authors suggested this might point to a ‘dark’ side of high self-confidence for young people who struggle to overcome the constraints of their upbringing.

Disadvantaged young people who had expected to apply to university tended to stay on at school at least for a short period of time after age 16, before ultimately going into work. The authors suggested that despite the young people’s academic aspirations, the pressure of their circumstances may have compelled them to get a job before pursuing a degree.

“It is encouraging that young people who find a viable career path after leaving school are just as happy with their lives regardless of whether they go on to university, an apprenticeship or work. This suggests there isn’t just one way to successfully transition into adulthood,” said Professor Ingrid Schoon, the study’s lead author.

“We must make sure that there are equal opportunities for young people who do not pursue higher education immediately after completing secondary education – this includes good quality vocational training and local labour market opportunities, particularly in the most deprived neighbourhoods.”

A socio-ecological model of agency: the role of structure and agency in shaping education and employment transitions in England’ by Ingrid Schoon and Mark Lyons-Amos will be published in Longitudinal and Life Course Studies on 26 January 2017. Embargoed copies of the paper are available to journalists upon request.


New project explores how online jokes improve digital literacy and learning (IoE)

New project explores how online jokes improve digital literacy and learning

20 January 2017

A new project led by Professor Rose Luckin, UCL Knowledge Lab, will explore how online jokes improve digital literacy and learning skills amongst young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in the UK and the Philippines.

The project will draw attention to the ambiguity of language and facilitate comprehension of non-literal meanings, which are often encapsulated in jokes. There will be a specific focus on jokes that have a double meaning, for example: “Why do cows have bells? Because their horns don’t work” or “Why don’t leopards escape from the zoo? Because they are always spotted.”

For Professor Luckin, this double meaning encourages valuable discussion around language: “The jokes teach the learners that language is so much more than just decoding letters. Jokes are a great place to start because they help the learners to visualise the scenarios and, most importantly, show that exploring meaning is fun.”

Happy school children

Dr Kaśka Porayska-Pomsta, who will also be working on the project, said:

“The focus on non-literal meanings in teaching and learning comprehension is often ignored. As such, it misses an opportunity for developing children’s understanding of layers in linguistic expression as well as, in the context of English as a second language, opportunities for exploring cultural similarities and differences in the way that humour is expressed.

“Furthermore, and equally important, is the fact that humour is a fantastic motivator for children, so the subject matter itself is intended to turn a routine and often boring experience of learning a language into something that children enjoy and want to do. So in this project, as well as helping children understand jokes in English, we will be paying attention to the cultural and motivational aspects of the experience that the focus on jokes may engender.”

The two year project will start in April and is the first collaboration between the UCL Institute of Education (IOE) and Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines. Both countries will work with learners aged 11-12 years old and will use jokes that relate to their own cultures.

The project will aim to increase the learners’ reading comprehension and digital skills through explaining the different ways in which digital technologies and media can be used. These skills are essential, particularly as children transition from primary to secondary school, where such skills, if well-developed can help them to progress.

Speaking of the project, Professor Luckin said:

“After being introduced to the power of jokes and language ambiguity by my colleague Dr Nicola Yuill nearly 20 years ago, I have been fascinated by the way that language ambiguity as expressed through jokes, varies across different cultures.

“Jokes engage children in wonderful discussions about language and humour as they explain what is funny to each other. I’m looking forward to finding out what Filipino children find funny in comparison to UK children, and vice versa. I’d like to understand the extent to which humour can be used on an international scale, and how best humour can support language comprehension with the aid of digital technology.

“We can use voice, image, video and text to help learners share and talk about what they find funny and we can connect learners globally. Young learners love sharing pictures and videos that are important to them using applications such as Instagram, so we will use their love of these activities to help them learn by scaffolding their learning through our own Artificially Intelligent (AI) application that takes #jokegram to a new level for learning.”

The project draws on Professor Luckin’s past collaboration with Dr Yuill at Sussex University, which revealed a clear link between a learner’s understanding of the ambiguity in riddles and the development of language comprehension. The project also builds on Professor Luckin’s work around digital technologies and AI, which has demonstrated that computers can effectively structure and support collaborative discussion.

The funding was awarded by the British Council’s Newton Fund Institutional Links, which provides grants for the development of research and innovation collaborations between the UK and partner countries.