The UniverSum summer school for Russian school children was held for the first time. A peculiar feature of this school is that there is no common educational plan, but every participant can choose for themselves what they’d like to study. There were several educational tracks to choose from, such as web development, industrial programming, algorithms, programming languages (Python and C ++), mobile applications for iOS and Android, machine learning, hacking and cybersecurity, databases, Unity, and virtual and augmented reality. Training and workshops were conducted by school teachers and IT specialists.

“One of the main advantages of this summer school is that it doesn’t just focus on solving tasks but gives students an opportunity to hone their skills in various IT fields. Only those already experienced in programming could join the school. However, during the classes it turned out that many of our students still found some simple practical tasks difficult and confusing,” commented Vlad Roskov, coordinator of the SPbCTF project and Kaspersky Lab specialist.

The UniverSum summer school
The UniverSum summer school

To help school students understand what skills they lack, the organizers of UniverSum created the so-called “Tree of knowledge”. This is a graph which shows the recommended order of learning materials for every curriculum subject. Thanks to this graph, students could more accurately assess their skills and create their own educational plan. Every student had a personal mentor who checked on their progress.

“A mini-competition was organized for those willing to take part in our first introductory class on hacking and security. We offered them tasks in various fields of computer security and then talked to each one of them individually. For us, this was a way to better assess their level of skills and offer them suitable materials, while for students this was an opportunity to try their hand at everything they were interested in and choose something of their liking,” shared Ksenia Kravtsova, head of SPbCTF, staff member of the Department of Computer System Design and Security at ITMO University.

All SPbCTF’s classes at UniverSum were held in the Capture The Flag (CTF) format, added Ms. Kravtsova. CTF is a special kind of an information security competition where the players try to secure a victory by hacking their competitors’ servers and protecting their own. To learn more about CTF, read the article about ITMO University student team taking part in an annual Russian Cybersecurity Competition known as Russian Capture the Flag (RuCTF).

“We did our best to take a personal approach to each student and give them the knowledge they really need. That is, first I offered students to solve a task and then answered their questions if there were any. We also had a rating system to motivate them even more,” said Egor Zaytsev, SPbCTF mentor and Positive Technologies specialist.

The classes were organized in such a way that simple tasks were followed by more complex ones. The SPbCTF team uses the same technique at their workshops in St. Petersburg. Thanks to this approach students gradually familiarize themselves with the basics of computer security and CTF competitions and don’t get frightened off by complex tasks straight away.

This autumn, SPbCTF launches a new season of workshops that will focus on a classic, Attack-Defence format of CTF, which means that participants interact with each other during the competition. Anyone can participate, regardless of their age. According to Ksenia Kravtsova, school children shouldn’t be afraid to take part in such competitions. Students can acquire practical skills in the field of computer security, work in teams and take part in CTF competitions. The workshops are free of charge.