A new study released by the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) and sponsored by Microsoft, shows that U.S. schools are ill-equipped to teach children the fundamentals of 21st Century “Digital Citizenship.” The 2011 version of the State of Cyberethics, Cybersafety and Cybersecurity Curriculum in the U.S. found that more than one-third (36 percent) of teachers received no relevant professional development training in the last year from their school districts. Meanwhile, 86 percent received fewer than six hours of training in online safety, computer security and cyber ethics.
Not surprisingly, teachers do not feel adequately prepared to instruct on these topics. Less than one-quarter of respondents (24 percent) said they feel “very well-prepared” to teach about protecting personal information online. Even fewer (23 percent) said they were well-versed in preventing cyberbullying, and just one-third responded that they were well-equipped to teach basic computer security skills, such as password protection and backing-up data. The survey, published annually by NCSA since 2008, polled 1,012 teachers, 200 IT coordinators and 402 school administrators (325 principals and 77 superintendents) in January and February.
As a society, we need to thoroughly prepare young people to understand and manage the challenges of life in the Digital Age. We need to ensure they enter higher education and the work force being “cyber-aware and cyber-capable.” Microsoft supports online safety education in K-12 schools, while also appreciating the vast array of material that teachers must impart on a host of subjects on a daily basis. Given this need for balance, making online safety, security and ethics lessons part of existing curricula, and finding opportunities for integration may be a useful approach. Yet, more and more often, we hear anecdotal accounts of children “going online” before they start school, at three and even 2-1/2 years of age.
Accordingly, Microsoft also urges parents to get involved early, and to sit side by side with our youngest Web surfers as they explore the wonders of the Internet. Indeed, the NCSA/Microsoft study shows that nearly 80 percent of teachers and 60 percent of administrators identified parents as the group primarily responsible for teaching children to use computers safely and securely. More than half of IT coordinators, meanwhile, said teachers bear that chief responsibility.
Informal at-home parental guidance and formal in-school online safety programs are the most effective ways to help protect children and are more suitable than restrictions or regulation. Free resources abound, including many from Microsoft (www.microsoft.com/security), and other organizations we partner with and support. These include NCSA, the Family Online Safety Institute, iKeepSafe, Stop.Think.Connect, and Look Both Ways, to name a few.
Staying safer online is a shared responsibility among many, including youth, parents, educators, industry and government, with everyone having a significant role to play.