In May this year, educators were perhaps not surprised but certainly concerned that a draft of the Australian educational curriculum proposed teaching children as young as five cybersecurity. The proposal retained a 2015 decision to teach digital technologies across a range of subjects which wasn’t implemented due to a lack of resources.
An Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) study in 2016 showed that 97% of households with children aged under 15 years have access to the internet, with an average number of seven devices per household. 99% of young people aged 15–17 years are online, making this age group the highest users.
So, if we have the majority of young people actively using the internet, the Government seeking for children to be taught cyber skills by educators, and precious few resources, how are teaching professionals meant to take that first step?
It begins with a decision – deciding to offer a secure digital environment for children. An environment in which they can benefit from access to a vast array of information, a wonderful world of cultural experiences and becoming a citizen of the digital world.
Broadly speaking, it revolves around three pillars: Secure, Learn, and Teach.
Securing the Environment
There are two main environments educators should seek to secure. The school/college environment and the home.
For school environments, the network must be secure from inbound threats and attacks. This means the deployment of a good anti-virus package alongside effective web filtering to ensure that inappropriate material cannot be reached.
Your IT provider can work with you to review and develop a plan for comprehensively securing the school network. This should include policies for pupils and adults on-site using or attempting to use unsecured devices, regular risk assessments, and providing adequate training for students and educators alike.
Pupils should be encouraged to discuss their home network security, this could be made into a practical assignment such as changing default access to home Wi-Fi routers, parent-controlled web filters and staying safe online tips that will help foster a security-first mindset.
One of the best solutions against getting attacked is backing up data. The rise of ransomware attacks across the globe has been astronomical and it isn’t limited to big business. To avoid losing critical data (especially school projects), educators should be teaching the next generation about the importance of ensuring all data is backed up securely, regularly, and ideally in the cloud.
Nearly all Cloud storage solutions come with family plans, so it’s easy to ensure everyone has their own account and that all the data is backed up – regardless of whether it’s on a phone, laptop, tablet or computer.
How comfortable are you with Cybersecurity as a topic? With 99% of Australians accessing the Internet and the pandemic driving increasing familiarity with online tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams it may feel that it’s too large a topic to break into and one of specialists only, after all isn’t there a huge Cyber Security Industry to try and protect against threats and hackers?
The good news is that the Industry is working hand-in-hand with Governments across the globe to democratize data and information. Cyber Security companies regularly publish threat reports, blogs, podcasts and articles aimed at the everyday Australian. Governments and authorities also provide good online guides full of hints and tips and practical information.
We also have a fantastic practical resource in front of each of us – our own children and pupils. There is irrefutable merit in collaborating with the end-user – having open, inclusive discussions with pupils on what applications and websites they use, what new software they are excited about, what they want to do online will help drive meaningful conversations which can be tailored to safety.
Now you’ve made that decision and you’ve taken the first step. The next part is your strength and skillset: teaching.
The age of the pupils will govern the particular topics and the depths but as a guide, our youngest should be told the importance of not sharing key details with strangers online such as their full names, date of birth or address as well as gaining consent to access online material.
As they get a little older, teaching children the importance of making secure passwords (and not reusing them), how websites work and how data is stored, and how they may be targeted by people that may want to do them harm over the internet will offer a strong grounding in cyber safety.
The most difficult part of any endeavour is now complete as you’ve taken the first step, and you’re ready to make those first decisions in preparing our children to be global digital citizens in a safe environment.