Back to School with Stewart Harrison – Gibraltar Digital Skills Foundation

Winner of the ‘Best Educator’ award at the Security Serious Unsung Heroes Awards

As Bayside Comprehensive School Head of Physics, I’ve been a teacher for eleven years and started training students as part of a programme in the school for CyberCenturion in 2014. It began with seven students from Bayside, and to date has had over 100 young learners participate from both comprehensive schools, between the ages of 13 – 18. During these five years, the club reached the CyberCenturion finals in 2015, won the competition in 2016 , in 2018 made CyberCenturion history as they were crowned the UK’s top all-girls team, they were recognised by the UK Cabinet Office, which commended the team on twitter and marked their achievement on International Women’s Day that year. In 2019 another three teams reached the finals with the teams scooping 2nd place in the under 14s category and 3rd in the over 14s. Since the program began, it has been running two-hour sessions per week, after school hours. The program has been extremely beneficial to students who are on the autistic spectrum but struggle academically within the current Education model.

In 2018, the club was awarded Highly Commended in the annual STEM awards hosted at the House of Lords.

I’ve also been fortunate to have the honour of making the Queens New Year’s Honours list being awarded a Gibraltar Award by Her Royal Highness for services to Information Technology Education and awarded by HM Gibraltar Government a Medallion of Honour for services to education and cybersecurity.

In April 2019, I launched The Duke of York Inspiring Digital Enterprise Award (iDEA) thedukeofyork.org/ with the Honourable John Cortes Minister for Education at the Startup Grind Gibraltar event with one of the Coaches at the Cyber Centurion camp Lluis Mora Head of Cyber Security at GVC the largest employer in Gibraltar. This is an international programme aiming to help address the digital skills gap. The programme provides free digital skills education engaging the private sector locally to provide support for the online modules ranging from GDPR, Blockchain, Coding and Animation. This programme has just picked up ‘Best Educator’ in the 2019 Security Serious Unsung Heroes awards.

I run the programme at the Bayside Cyber Club every Wednesday evening from 6:30 till 8:30 at Bayside School and is open to ANY student between the ages of 12 – 18. iDEA is a blended learning approach that aspires to be a digital and enterprise equivalent of The Duke of Edinburgh Award. Participants take on a series of challenges that earn them points which aggregate towards their Bronze, Silver or Gold Inspiring Digital Enterprise Award. The overarching goal of iDEA is to support the development and accreditation of digital skills, thereby allowing individuals more opportunities to become economically active. 

These initiatives are with a few others all coming together under a charity called the ‘Gibraltar Digital Skills Foundation’. “Building bridges between the public and private sector, is essential in order to address the skills gap. We seek to form a foundation that does exactly this. With permanent funding, holistic learning opportunities, that engages young learners – our aim is not just to close this gap but to develop a dynamic workforce.

The creation of Gibraltar Digital Skills Foundation would therefore serve this purpose as a registered charity looking to extend our support and reach, including the delivery of formal qualifications. Additionally, the foundation would be looking to contribute to both the employability of adults and life skills for senior citizens in our community. We want to give back and embrace an ethos of life long learning and engagement in current and relevant digital skills.”

The Foundation will aim to encompass the development of digital skills at different levels within Gibraltar using the vast and wide experience of nine trustees from both public and private sector, offering a wealth of experience and expertise. Charitable initiatives such as senior citizen lessons and prison reskilling are just a couple of the overall activities that are being planned by offering of different courses and learning opportunities based upon advice and guidance from the technology sector. This has stemmed from an established history and success the team members already have with private sector that they are able to join up with their education links. Additionally, they will pursue the setting up of internships and work placements to give members of the Foundation an experience of the type of work that can be done in the technology industry with one of the aims being to Reach out to school leavers and mature students to offer them opportunities to reskill themselves to make them more employable. This will also help when adapting to the needs of the job market to ensure the relevant skills are taught.

At the same time there are plans to Launch of new Gibraltar based Cyber Challenge Rock Defenders to both comprehensive schools aimed at ages 12 – 14 to help raise the profile of ICT within the schools. There is potential for this to be an inter-island challenge but discussions are still ongoing. Of course, the Foundation is still open to receiving financial support as students will need specialist equipment to complete digital skills related courses amongst some other requirements such as premises and other costs. For more information on how to assist or contribute please contact: Sharrison@baysideschoolgibraltar.gi  or denise.matthews@startupgrind.com