Tech

Contest to inspire schoolgirls to become code-breakers

A competition with a mission to inspire the next generation of cyber security experts will open on Monday… and it's just for girls.

The contest is run by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) to encourage 12 and 13-year-old girls to get involved in code-cracking and problem-solving, in the hope they chose computer science for GCSE and go on to do further qualifications in the subject.

The problem is, only 11% of the global cyber workforce are women – something the deputy director of the NCSC Chris Ensor says is "not good enough".

He said: "Often we talk about boys, girls, male, female, but ultimately we want people across the spectrum working in this space who will bring different things.

"They might have the same technical skills but they look at things in a different way, approach problems in a different way, they will do teamwork in a different way and that's what brings the magic.

Image: Pat Bhattacharya has had to explain to male students why the competition is just for girls

"That's what helps us solve so many different problems."

The concept of the competition is definitely working at the Piggott School in Berkshire.

Four girls made up the winning team for 2018, beating 4,500 other students from across the UK, and it has inspired many of the new Year 8 pupils to follow in their footsteps.

But it has not gone down well with everyone.

Pat Bhattacharya, head of science at the school, said: "It's a little bit tricky telling the boys it's not for them and I asked them why they thought it was just for girls and everybody knew the answer… It's to encourage girls to address the gender imbalance."

Chris Ensor has said the gender imbalance is the cyber workforce is 'not good enough'. Pic: NCSC
Image: Chris Ensor has said the gender imbalance is the cyber workforce is 'not good enough'. Pic: NCSC

As a computer programmer before she became a teacher, she knows how male-dominated an environment it can be.

Zara Pristov-King, who was part of the winning team, said: "It definitely raised awareness.

"I decided to take the subject because of the competition and I may be taking it for A-level."

Teammate Jess Peck described the experience of winning as "amazing".

She said: "I think it's really important to spread the word and competitions like this really open up opportunities."

The NCSC, which is part of the government intelligence organisation GCHQ, also has a scheme of student bursaries and courses to help even up the gender split.

The first round of the CyberFirst Girls Competition 2019 is all online and entries open on Monday.

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The finals are due to be held for the top 10 teams in Edinburgh in March.

But if the first two years of the contest are anything to go by, it has already proved a victory for the competition's organisers.

Original Article

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