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.

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