Children and teachers flying blind on the Internet

Nov 18, 2008 3:24pm

By Michael Kaiser, NCSA Executive Director
When it comes to cybersecurity, our nation’s students and teachers are flying blind and have not received the basic education needed to keep them safe online.  Today, the National Cyber Security Alliance released the 2008 National  Cyberethics, Cybersafety, Cybersecurity Baseline Study, conducted by Davina Pruitt-Mentle, Ph.D. of Educational Technology, Policy Research, and Outreach (ETPRO) on behalf of NCSA.

The study revealed that less than 25 percent of educators felt comfortable teaching students how to protect themselves from cyber predators, cyber bullies and identity theft.

Moreover, when children age 10-14 are spending more time on the Internet than watching television and thousands will receive brand new computers this holiday season, the study found that only a handful of states have education curriculum requirements that includes information on how students can protect themselves online.   Shockingly, 90 percent of educators have received less than six hours of professional development on cyber security in the past year.

Why study what schools are teaching to children about cyber crime and cyber security?

The answer is simple.  We now live in the digital era and young people today will be the first to grow up with the Internet as an integral part of their lives. If we are going to so openly allow technology into our lives, we need to be sure that we are doing everything possible to teach children how to be safe and secure online. The bar should be set high with the goal of teaching cyber security, cyber ethics, and cyber safety until it becomes second nature – just like looking both ways before crossing the street or buckling seat belts in a car.

The goal of the study was to look at how cyber safety, cyber security and cyber ethics issues are being addressed through the school systems. What topics are making their way into the classroom, who’s teaching them and what tools are they using? How much time is devoted to these topics? Do teachers feel prepared to educate students about these issues?  All teachers must understand how cyber security and safety fits within their classroom and their educational mission.

Other key findings include:

  • Only 8% of educators said their school included cyber security, cyber safety and cyber ethics topics as part of the state curriculum, health/safety curriculum or one-day assemblies.
  • Less than 5 % of educators said protecting, identifying and responding to identity theft, predators, bullying and other crimes is included in the state curriculum.

While we don’t want to overburden schools with one more thing to teach, when it comes to cyber security, schools are a natural partner. The need for schools to get involved stems in part because they have embraced the digital age through increasingly connected classrooms, Websites, listservs and other online tools that are used for educational purposes and communication. As with any other classroom tool that poses potential risk (from scissors to Bunsen burners), the first lessons should be about safety, and there should be a high level of confidence that students understand and have incorporated safe practices.