Helping Australian school kids and teachers learn cybersecurity

Grok Academy’s CyberSteps program has helped train 170,000 Australian students already.

Rearview students with hands up teacher in background [students, education, question time]
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A computer science academic at Sydney University, and associate professor James Curran’s research was in computational linguistics. One of the programs he ran was the 27-year-old National Computer Science School. That was where he came across students and teachers who were enthusiastic about IT but did not have the technical skills they needed to pursue IT positions.

To help address that, in 2012 Curran was one of the authors of the Australian Curriculum for Digital Technologies, which he described as a huge opportunity but also eye-opening. He tells CSO Australia that one of the challenges is that, yes, a new curriculum can be created — but the teachers need to be trained in what they are expected to teach. And when it comes to technology, the training onus is more challenging as the technology is constantly changing.

“It's very rare that we'd really introduce a whole new subject into schools. Computing has been one of those,” Curran says. “What a mathematics teacher learned at university to teach maths will probably set you up your entire career. [But] if you are one of the few computing teachers who actually had a computing background then you can throw away a chunk of what you've learned every few years,” he says.

That is especially true for cybersecurity. Curran says that when he studied there was a unit on the subject, whereas now there are entire degrees on it. This continuous change in technology is a real challenge for the school system.

Addressing that challenge is how he came to create Grok Academy, a not-for profit organisation focused on advancing computer education formed from two other organisations Curran set up: Grok Learning and the Australian Computing Academy at the University of Sydney.

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