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Study: Too few schools are teaching cyber safety

Teaching about safe and responsible internet use is increasingly important for today's digital natives.
Teaching about safe and responsible internet use is increasingly important for today's digital natives.

Students aren’t getting enough instruction in school on how to use technology and the internet in a safe and responsible manner, a new poll suggests.

Released by the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) and supported by Microsoft Corp., the survey found fewer than one-fourth of U.S. teachers have spent more than six hours on any kind of professional development related to cyber ethics, safety, or security within the last 12 months.

More than half of teachers reported their school districts do not require these subjects as part of the K-12 curriculum, and only 35 percent said they’ve taught proper online conduct to their students.

Despite the lack of training and consistent teaching of internet safety, the survey shows that America’s teachers, school administrators, and technology coordinators strongly agree that cyber ethics, safety, and security should be taught in schools.

The poll, conducted by Zogby International, surveyed more than 1,000 teachers, 400 school administrators, and 200 technology coordinators. Results were analyzed in conjunction with the Maryland-based research group Educational Technology Policy, Research, and Outreach (ETPRO).

Key findings of the survey include:

• More than 90 percent of technology coordinators, school administrators, and teachers support teaching cyber ethics, safety, and security in schools. Yet, only 35 percent of teachers and just over half of school administrators report that their school districts require the teaching of these subjects in their curriculum.

• Lessons on these topics aren’t being integrated very often into everyday instructional activities. For example, only 27 percent of teachers have taught about the safe use of social networks in the past 12 months; only 18 percent have taught about online scams, fraud, and social engineering; and only 19 percent have taught about safe passwords. Overall, 32 percent of teachers said they have not taught cyber ethics, and 44 percent of teachers said they have not taught cyber safety or security.

• Teachers and administrators have different opinions as to who should be responsible for educating students about these topics. While 72 percent of teachers said parents bear the primary responsibility for teaching these topics, 51 percent of school administrators said teachers are mostly responsible.

“The study illuminates that there is no cohesive effort to [give] young people the education they need to safely and securely navigate the digital age and prepare them as digital citizens and employees,” said Michael Kaiser, NCSA’s executive director. “Unfortunately, we are not meeting the needs of schools, teachers, or students.”

Kaiser added: “President Obama, in his Cyberspace Policy Review released last year, specifically called for a ‘K-12 cyber security education program for digital safety, ethics, and security.’ Now is the time for a national consensus to move forward to achieve that goal.”

The survey also found a high reliance on shielding students from potentially harmful material online instead of teaching behaviors for safe and secure internet use.

More than 90 percent of schools have built up digital defenses, such as filtering and blocking social-networking web sites, to protect children on school networks. While these defenses might help reduce the online risks that children face at school, they don’t prepare students to act more safely and responsibly when accessing the internet at home or via mobile devices, NCSA said.

“Education is at the heart of ensuring that students remain safe online and understand appropriate netiquette,” said Keith Krueger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN). “Quite simply, we need to make the child the filter, not rely solely on technological protection measures [such as] blocking and filtering. We know that students have always found ways around the best constructed fences created by adults.”

Krueger said CoSN strongly supports the Broadband Data Improvement Act, recently enacted federal legislation that requires all schools receiving e-Rate support to educate their students about appropriate online behavior. In November, the Federal Communications Commission proposed new rules that say e-Rate applicants would have to submit proof that they’ve implemented an internet safety education program in order to receive funding.

“We believe that these new e-Rate requirements will have a major effect on student safety once the FCC implements them, something that will happen in the next year. That said, we clearly have a long way to go [toward] educating our kids, as well as educators, around online safety and security,” Krueger said.

He added: “It is interesting to note the disconnect between teachers, who mostly believe it is parental responsibility to teach cyber ethics, and administrators, who mostly believe it is a school responsibility. Most likely, teachers feel unprepared to provide that education. That is something we need to correct.”

“While federal mandates tied to e-Rate funding, such as the Broadband Act—coupled with some state legislative efforts and inclusion of technology standards in many state curricula—have begun to create a framework for change on these issues, [the survey] results point to only small gains in the right direction,” said Davina Pruitt-Mentle, executive director of ETPRO.

Teaching cyber ethics, safety, and security is increasingly important, NCSA said. Students between the ages of 8 and 18 consume up to 7.5 hours of electronic content per day, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation study. The KFF study also found that children spend nearly two hours a day sending or receiving messages through electronic devices.

The NCSA poll was conducted between Dec. 29 and Jan. 11. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.


National Cyber Security Alliance

Educational Technology Policy, Research, and Outreach

Consortium for School Networking

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