NCSA study says schools aren't preparing students for life online

computer safety and kids

The National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) recently released the results of a Microsoft-sponsored study, conducted by Zogby/463, entitled "The State of K-12 Cyberethics, Cybersafety and Cybersecurity Curriculum in the United States" [PDF file].

According to the study results, U.S. schools aren't sufficiently prepared to teach students basic online safety, security, and ethics. And despite the fact that many schools are well-equipped with dedicated computer labs and high-tech classrooms, schools leaders don't agree about how best to remedy the situation.

While only 55 percent of teachers agree strongly that cyber-security, cyber-safety and cyber-ethics should be taught in schools, more than 82 percent of administrators and 85 percent of IT specialists agree strongly that those topics should be in the curriculum.

"Kids and teens have embraced the digital world with great intensity, spending as many as eight hours a day online by some estimates," Michael Kaiser, executive director of the NCSA, said in a statement. "Yet America's schools have not caught up with the realities of the modern economy."

In the past year, 86 percent of teachers received less than six hours of professional development training from their school districts related to online safety, security, and ethics. "Teachers are not getting adequate training in online safety topics, and schools have yet to adopt a comprehensive approach to online safety, security, and ethics as part of a primary education," Kaiser said.

As a result, the study found, only 24 percent of teachers feel very well-prepared to teach students about protecting personal information online, and only one-third feel well-prepared to teach basic security skills, such as password protection and backing up data.

"Every school district should have a comprehensive cyber-security curriculum in place," Kaiser said. "Schools should be confident that they are graduating students who can use technology safely, securely and productively, and this training should begin at an early age, from the point when a child first enters school. Teachers, administrators and other school personnel must be supported as we evolve to teach the basics of a cyber-security education to every child. Teachers need training, and schools need high-quality curricula that address the needs of students who are growing up in digital times."

For the study, Zogby/463 conducted online surveys and telephone interviews with 1,012 teachers, 200 IT coordinators and 402 school administrators (325 principals and 77 superintendents) in January and February of 2011.