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Skills Shortage Includes a Lack of Teachers

While we talk about the shortage of skilled people in the IT security arena, and the latest (ISC)2 workforce study predicting a 1.8 million workforce shortage by 2022, attention is often shifted to academia to demonstrate that a future generation of employees will emerge.

However, maybe that is not bearing the fruit that it should be, as according to a report by Fife Today, Lochgelly High School sent out a letter to parents informing that they will be unable to teach computing to pupils after the only ‘capable’ teacher left for another school.

The letter stated: “Computing is a shortage subject and nationally schools struggle to recruit. We have advertised twice (and are currently advertising again) for a computing teacher however received 0 applicants for the last two adverts." 

The school pessimistically said that it will make a third effort to recruit, but headteacher Carol Ann Penrose added that after the two failed recruitment campaigns, the school does “not hold out much hope for much change this time.”

A spokesman for Fife Council was quoted as saying that there is a national teacher shortage, and computing is one of the subjects that is particularly badly affected.

I’ve been honored to have traveled around the UK attending conferences and one thing that has never failed to impress me is the number of delegates showing up to conferences – both in and outside of London. So with a vibrant industry and some fantastic expertise, why is that not being translated into the classroom?

After all, if conferences like Steelcon are able to get kids to attend on a Saturday, surely there must be a demand for learning? IT lessons were common in the early 1990s and mostly consisted of using Microsoft Office and working with MS-DOS. What has changed in the past 25 years for a school to not be able to teach computing whilst the world is still dominated by the likes of Google, Microsoft and Apple?

An IT teacher told Infosecurity that anyone can teach basic computing, as often the kids know more than the teachers already, but no-one in any of their departments had formal computing experience.

“Specialist stuff like databases are a bit harder but can still be done by anyone, programming would probably need someone with some background but it depends on what is on the curriculum.”

They said that there is plenty of online content for teaching resources, but to run a serious after school club, doing coding competitions and the like would require someone keen. “Kids who join things like that are self-motivated so could be handled by a supervisor rather than a teacher.”

So it doesn’t seem that there needs to be some expert hacker leading the class, or someone who has led security for a Fortune 500. Perhaps just someone who has the enthusiasm to pass their knowledge on.

Brian Honan, CEO of BH Consulting and former lecturer in information security at University College Dublin, said that the failure to hire is “probably symptomatic of two skill gaps intersecting in one section of teaching” as there is a shortage of teachers, and a shortage of computer professionals.

“With the IT industry offering higher salaries and better career opportunities it will become more difficult to attract those with IT skills into the education sector,” he told Infosecurity. “However, this could be an opportunity for IT professionals and firms to provide something back to the community by volunteering their skills to their local schools.”

Last month the UK government announced a cybersecurity schools program intended to train around 6000 teenagers and while it boasted significant industry partners, and aimed to support and encourage schoolchildren to develop some of the key skills they would need to work in the growing cybersecurity sector and help defend the nation’s businesses against online threats, questions have to be asked about how this will be achieved without teachers.

Honan said that a more realistic and workable solution will require government intervention and investment in skilling-up existing teachers with the skills to deliver the curriculum. “This should not be seen as a cost as money spent in educating pupils to be more confident around computers will pay off for the digital economy.”

While this may only be one school affected, it is worth considering how many other schools will feel the effect of a lack of teaching staff and if this is something that we can help prevent with the present expertise.

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