What would happen if we didn’t have the millions of cybersecurity professionals needed to fight hackers and prevent cyberattacks? Unfortunately, that’s not a hypothetical question. Data suggests that, by 2021, there will be a deficit of 3.5 million cybersecurity professionals globally and 300,000 in the U.S. alone. Without these workers–and the cybersecurity education to prepare them–cyberattacks will only continue to increase in frequency and severity.

As the talent shortage in cybersecurity continues, it will only become harder for companies to protect digital assets like sensitive data, critical applications, and online experiences. In response, we must look beyond the existing workforce to help today’s students become tomorrow’s cybersecurity specialists.

Why cybersecurity education deserves a place in schools

The current shortage of cybersecurity workers exists primarily because we haven’t emphasized cybersecurity in schools nearly enough. Students might learn the basics, but they’re not engaging with this subject as if it were a future career path. That must change — otherwise, the hackers win.

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Education today must reflect the fact that we live in a digital world and interact with each other through technology. Cybersecurity education and training should be commonplace in schools, yet most people only engage with this subject seriously once they enter the workforce.

Why isn’t it a key part of education? The answer comes down to a lack of resources. Schools that lack time, trained teachers, and administrative support set aside the subject of cybersecurity education and training, which leads to few students pursuing cybersecurity careers.

This is a lost opportunity. Schools are a natural environment for young minds to explore these concepts. Classrooms are already filled with technology, which students should learn to use safely from a young age. Teachers can even use tech tools to gamify a complicated subject like cybersecurity to keep it digestible and fun. With the right cybersecurity learning resources, students can become safe digital citizens from a young age and, ideally, go on to become future security professionals.

Already-overworked educators are likely wondering who will provide those resources. Instead of expecting schools to shoulder the burden, we should look to the private sector. Companies are in the best position to supply funding, technology, teacher training, and learning materials. In exchange, those companies will effectively be training the cybersecurity professionals they’ll need to operate in the future.

Schools, for their part, can start to make cybersecurity education a priority by making it part of the Common Core. The internet is woven into the fabric of our daily lives, and people need to know how to use it safely at every age — a truth that starts with students. Schools fail kids when they don’t teach them cybersecurity early and often.

Ultimately, this issue can only be remedied through a partnership between schools and businesses. The private sector can provide valuable and necessary resources, and schools can change their approaches while embracing a new cybersecurity curriculum.

Teaching cybersecurity the right way

4 ways to prioritize cybersecurity education in schools

Schools might not be able to start cybersecurity training immediately, but it needs to become part of our education system soon if we’re ever going to address our cybersecurity talent shortage. Here are a few steps administrators and educators can take to make cybersecurity education a priority:

• Adjust graduation requirements.
Many students graduate from high school without being required to take any classes in technology. Formal tech training, particularly around cybersecurity, should be just as important as reading or math. Colorado, for example, is ahead of the pack on this front; it has developed comprehensive STEM guidance that other states and schools might choose to emulate.

• Join an educational organization.
Educational organizations connect schools with government and private sector resources like courses, certifications, cyber competitions, internships, and coding summer camps. For schools that lack the necessary resources to teach cybersecurity, these organizations are an unparalleled resource.

• Build a virtual foundation.
In one form or another, online learning is here to stay. Teachers may need additional training on how to teach online effectively, including how to address the inherent cyber risks of doing so. Teachers become better at teaching cybersecurity when they understand the intricacies and importance of this issue on a personal level.

• Think universally.
Cybersecurity education shouldn’t be for some students; it should be universally mandatory. Further, it should involve in-depth education rather than a shallow introduction. Instead of just showing students how to stay safe online, teach them how to leverage information technology competently, efficiently, and safely.

We are in a crucial moment when it comes to cybersecurity. The choices we make now will determine the safety and well-being of generations to come. To be ready for a future that becomes more digital by the day, we have to start preparing the next generation of cybersecurity workers.

About the Author:

Thomas Russell, M.Ed., is the cyber education program manager for the National Cybersecurity Center. In 2020, he was named the Cyber Education Administrator of the Year by the EdCenter. Thomas also has years of teaching cybersecurity, technology literacy, and computer classes to high school students.


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