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Scottish Cyber Awards: Meet Toni Scullion, Teacher of the Year Nominee

Ross Kelly

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Scottish Cyber Awards

Ahead of the 2019 Scottish Cyber Awards, DIGIT caught up with some of the pioneering teachers helping to champion cybersecurity and STEM subjects across Scotland. 

The 2019 Scottish Cyber Awards will take place this month at Edinburgh’s Sheraton Grand Hotel. Now in its fourth year, the awards recognise and celebrate those who are championing and leading the way in Scotland’s cybersecurity sector. 

Hosted by the Scottish Business Resilience Centre, the awards will shine a light on all of the inspirational figures and innovative companies across the country.

At this year’s ceremony, the Teacher of the Year award is a hotly contested category, with three teachers nominated; Toni Scullion, Nicola Orr and Derek Harris.

In the this Q&A article, DIGIT speaks to Toni Scullion, who has been working as a computing science teacher at St Kentigern’s Academy for nine years, to gauge her thoughts on the cybersecurity sector and how we can inspire more children to pursue careers in this rapidly-evolving industry. 

What do you believe are the key challenges for encouraging youngsters to pursue careers in cybersecurity?

A few years ago I think a lack of resources was a real issue when trying to engage pupils with cybersecurity. But, at secondary school, I think Scotland is truly leading the way in education. We have an excellent bank of pick up and play resources created by the amazing Craig Steele and supported by Skills Development Scotland.

We have the incredibly unique and engaging Cyber Christmas Lectures that are led by the amazing Martin Beaton. Martin’s work in cyber has completely changed education and he is also one of the main driving forces behind Cyber Security NPA and the Cyber Security HNC.

Unfortunately, the key challenge I find is that we’re being let down by school infrastructure; be it slow internet or that amazing websites to help educate pupils about cybersecurity or ethical hacking etc are blocked.

It’s great to see cyber resilience being included in the benchmarks, but I feel that access to resources both physical and digital are severely limited in some schools due to funding or infrastructure issues.

Another challenge teachers face is getting space on the timetable to be able to deliver amazing opportunities such as the NPA. It’s a real shame when you have capable, willing and passionate teachers with innovative ideas unable to deliver such useful courses due to scheduling issues.

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As a teacher, how would you explain or highlight the benefit of careers in this area to a student?

Digital roles have become such an essential part of any sector and there are so many cyber career opportunities in Scotland – I’d make sure to try and convey this excitement to my students.

It’s a growing sector with lots of avenues to help them become an expert in their chosen field. It’s a chance for them to earn good money, travel and to have a fulfilling career.

Every pupil should hear @_Freakyclown_ and @drjessicabarker talk. After hearing their talk at the Christmas Cyber lectures last year I wanted their jobs!

Gender deficits in STEM subjects are an area of concern within the technology sector as a whole. How can we tackle this issue?

The gender gap is still a huge issue. Interestingly, I think the industry is under the impression it’s getting better and are unaware of the big problem that it is still there and, if anything, is getting worse.

It’s really good that industry is reporting a positive change and I think this is down to the hard work of some amazing initiatives from organisations such as CodeClan.

Unfortunately, this is not reflected at the secondary school level and I really worry that we will be facing an even bigger problem in the future in terms of the growing digital skills gap and gender diversity issue.

There has been a drop in the figures of both genders taking the subject at Highers. If this trend continues the digital skills gap will worsen.

The gender gap is nothing new and it’s hard to say what is the cause, but as a nation we need to come up with new solutions and initiatives to try to address this problem or else I believe that there will be a serious lack of homegrown digital talent working in Scotland.

How can we go about inspiring more girls and young women to pursue careers in tech and cybersecurity?

We have to keep continuing to support amazing initiatives and opportunities such as SmartStems, JPMorgan’s Tech for Good, Data Labs Women in Data Science, Turing’s Testers competition and dressCode.

I believe that, as a subject at school, computing science needs to be rebranded to make it more appealing to young people. To catch their attention and engage their minds, we need modern and engaging adverts that showcase the benefits of studying computer science. We can do this by highlighting all the career opportunities available to them here in Scotland.

 

Ross Kelly

Staff Writer

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