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Program Design, Development, and Quality / Staff Leadership and Management / Sustainability / Uncategorized

Cybersecurity Taking Root in Afterschool

The best and worst of online times. What do you know about Cybersecurity?

The Internet, as we all know, offers all the information you could ever want to find, all the time, from anywhere. Unfortunately, “all the information” includes a lot of revealing, specific data about ourselves, our property, and things we care about that we might not want or even understand to be available.

Staying protected while connected has become a fundamental challenge of citizenship, as the reach of “being online” expands ever more widely into areas formerly off-line.

One result – cybersecurity education has quickly become an urgent need, for all ages. For kids, it’s taking quickest root in out-of-school-time activities.

A risky space.

The Equifax breach, Russia and the 2016 election attacks, Game of Thrones episode leaks. These are just the headlines for an accelerating rate of assaults against online data and intellectual property.

Cybersecurity attacks threaten assets ranging from the personal and private to shared, national, even global interests. That means addressing them requires responses taken at individual as well as collective levels, from local communities up to and through national and international organizations.

Education a Key Piece

Education about cybersecurity, especially for K-12 students, is a primary front. But like its close cousin, computer science, cybersecurity education remains undeveloped in many of the ways required for deployment in schools.

Also, like computer science, though, cybersecurity is finding a foothold in out-of-school programming. The flexibility and openness available for learning activities in this space create a hospitable environment for cybersecurity education.

Who’s Doing What…

A host of organizations has mobilized to create and deliver cybersecurity education initiatives. The focus is currently on high school students, and the biggest actors are close to or in the federal government.


Government-Related Programs

Cyberpatriot is almost certainly the biggest and oldest out-of-school-time cybersecurity education program. Developed and run by the Air Force Association, Cyberpatriot is meant to inspire K-12 students towards careers in cybersecurity. It has three parts:

  • National Youth Cyber Defense Competition: Teams of high school and middle school students compete to identify cybersecurity vulnerabilities and harden an imaginary small company’s network, using virtual images of real operating systems with existing security gaps. This competition, started in 2009, runs from October to April, and has grown to over 4,400 teams from all across the country.
  • AFA Cybercamps: Five-day summer camps instruct students in cybersecurity principles and practices. Begun in 2014, camps have taken root all across the country, with more than 75 in operation by 2017.
  • Elementary School Cyber Education Initiative: The newest Cyberpatriot program teaches kids in grades K-6 about cybersecurity with age-appropriate kits, offered free of charge. It launched in 2015.

Cyberpatriot has tapped a nerve. It has grown by about 40 percent a year since its 2009 launch. Organizers report that kids respond with passionate, sometimes excessive intensity to the challenge of protecting computer networks and systems. Cyberpatriot, and cybersecurity in general, could be finding its way into the sweet spot for STEM education, offering students relevance, teamwork, and opportunity in an exciting package.

Also be aware of GenCyber, a summer camp program open to all levels of K-12 student and teacher populations. Emphasizing both cybersecurity lessons and approaches to teaching, over 130 camps have run in 30 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

On Campus…

Out-of-school cybersecurity education programs are proliferating among other providers, too. Universities, for example, have jumped into the effort.

Much More (Needs) to Come

For now, out-of-school programming offers the easiest way to deliver cybersecurity education for kids. But schools will need to figure this out, too. For both the country as a whole and the private citizens that students will grow into, cybersecurity education needs to be a real part of the K-12 years.

For breakfast, I had cereal with strawberries on top, coffee, and a donut with green icing to celebrate the suddenly exciting Philadelphia Eagles.

Author: @ericiversen

Credits: Image courtesy of lekkyjustdoit at and Pixabay

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