Understanding cyber-security

How can teachers lead the way in tackling cyber-security issues to ensure their pupils remain safe online? Sue Nieland shares her views

This month saw the return of Safer Internet Day, a celebration of the responsible and positive use of digital technology for children and young people. In light of this event, research reported by the BBC found that 96% of 13 to 18-year-olds were signed up to social media networks including Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Whatsapp, which is hardly surprising in the current digital age. However, this trend continued among under- 13s, with 78% using at least one social media network, despite being below the age requirement. Online safety is an increasing concern, not only in schools, but outside the school gates too. So, how can teachers lead the way in tackling this issue, to ensure their pupils remain safe online? Sue Nieland, head of education for the Tech Partnership shares her views… 

Young people are doing pretty much what the rest of us are doing online: shopping, socialising, researching, learning, entertaining themselves and, sometimes, getting up to mischief. In fact, research company Childwise recently found for the first time that children are spending more time on the internet than they are watching TV. Boundaries are also increasingly blurred: with more and more children gaining access to smartphones and tablets, the idea of being ‘safe at school’ or ‘safe at home’ are outdated – young people are either safe online, or not. 

How to approach cyber-security

So we’ve established that living a digital life is completely normal for any young person. But in the online world, parents lack the framework for assessing risk and protecting their children that they apply instinctively in the wider world. No parent would tell a child to go and play outside, for example, without knowing the neighbourhood. However, many are happy to see their children ‘safely’ sitting on the sofa with a tablet. 

For any adult to let a young person loose in the digital world without helping them to understand the potential dangers is risky, but we need to be careful about how we approach the issue. We don’t want to make our children fearful of the internet, seeing it as negative or scary. On the contrary, we need to educate young people on how to behave safely and positively online, so that they can deal confidently with any potentially harmful incidents.

CPD for teachers

For teachers to model and teach good cyber behaviour in the classroom, they need to be sure of their own skills. The Tech Partnership has developed a new cyber-security accreditation in association with Naace, which provides e-learning modules that teachers can work through in their own time, leading to a Level One qualification. Levels two and three are currently in development, and will enable teachers to demonstrate application of knowledge and leadership in cyber security. It will also soon be possible for schools with a quorum of qualified staff to be recognised as cyber-aware, and demonstrating best practice teaching in this area. 

The curriculum

This is additionally important as the new GCSEs being introduced by AQA and OCR actually include cyber security as a requirement within the curriculum. This means that teachers must be equipped to teach it at quite a high level at Key Stage 4. This is a big ask, but if we can get teachers thoroughly rehearsing best practice in cyber-security, they will be able to teach pupils to do the same. 

Why this matters

One of the problems within the cyber-security industry is that there are huge quantities of vacancies in this sector, but a limited pipeline of skilled professionals able to fill these roles. This recruitment deficit is partly because children at the ages of 12 or 13, for example, aren’t aware that there are such exciting careers out there with fantastic earning potential. We need to raise awareness of the industry among young people and generate interest and excitement around online safety and cyber security more broadly. 

One way of doing this is by finding imaginative and sometimes extra-curricular ways for young people to develop skills and confidence in cyber security. For example, Badge Academies do this by bridging the gap between industry and education: employers specify the skills they want from future employees, and students are given flexible and innovative ways to acquire them. They can earn and share badges in a range of competencies, including both tech-specific and interpersonal skills. Badges can focus on various important aspects of cyber security, including online safety, the digital footprint and understanding threats. They are suitable for young people (Key Stage 4 upwards) and enable them to demonstrate their skills in ways that employers understand, and share the evidence on their CVs and statements of achievement.

As a teacher and learning professional, I’m really excited about the new ways to teach cyber security. It’s important we enable children to stay safe online, but just as important that we give them the tools to explore and make the most of this unimaginably wonderful resource.

Sue Nieland will be speaking about cyber-security at the Naace National Education Technology Conference, taking place on Thursday 24 March 2016 in Leicester. For more information, please visit: https://www.naace.co.uk/events/conference2016/ 

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