As a society, we’ve worked for decades to find better ways to educate young minds about traditional and financial literacy. But one form of literacy continues to become more important yet fails to garner attention in schools: cybersecurity.


Much of the world now exists in a digital space. From the time most children enter preschool, they are introduced to smartphones, tablets, and Internet of Things (IoT) devices. People may laugh at the idea of a toddler asking Alexa to buy presents, but it’s a sobering reminder that practically every exchange can now happen online.


Despite these societal shifts, we’re not teaching cybersecurity literacy in our schools effectively. To ensure the health and wellness of our nation, some major changes are in order.


Why Push for Cybersecurity Now?


Without a deep understanding of the digital world, children grow into adults who don’t understand how to protect their proprietary data or stay secure online. They might be confused about cloud computing and left unable to prevent cyberattacks on small and larger scales.


None of this is to suggest that schools aren’t interested in K-12 cybersecurity, of course. However, there is a severe shortage of teachers with cybersecurity knowledge and credentials. In truth, there’s a considerable shortage of cybersecurity workers in general. If Cybersecurity Ventures’ predictions are accurate, there will be about 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs by 2021.


Many schools have robust STEM programs, but they don’t bridge the cybersecurity skills gap. Why? Primary, secondary, and college STEM training doesn’t typically delve into cybersecurity. It wasn’t until recently that some higher education programs even offered cybersecurity certificates of completion. In one McAfee report, “Hacking the Skills Shortage,” only 23% of participants said education was directing more knowledgeable applicants into the cybersecurity job market.


The solution to this problem is to build up cybersecurity as part of the K-12 curriculum across the country — and throughout the world. Unfortunately, it’s tough for teachers and administrators to incorporate cybersecurity into the classroom. Budget constraints are partially responsible, but a larger problem is the lack of teachers with cybersecurity experience. Cybersecurity professionals can command exceptionally high salaries given the low supply and high demand, which makes it hard to convince them to take the far less lucrative cybersecurity education path.


This puts the onus on educators themselves to take a page out of the STEM game plan and begin incorporating cybersecurity into curricula. After all, STEM courses have evolved to the point of adding more credentialed applicants to the job market. Cybersecurity coursework could enjoy the same level of interest, especially if it were introduced in both gamified and real-world ways through experiential learning like hackathons and hands-on competitions.


Developing Cybersecurity Course Syllabi


How are teachers without cybersecurity degrees supposed to develop a cybersecurity course syllabus or cybersecurity learning resources, then? The answer can be found on the internet. Educators who want to become part-time cybersecurity teachers in their schools have a number of ways to develop syllabi.


Some colleges offer free online cybersecurity classes each semester — as do organizations like the National Cybersecurity Center. Having formal instruction offers advantages, like face-to-face directions, constructive feedback, and the ability to work in groups. Of course, self-taught learning can also be advantageous. A great place to start is the CyberPatriot website, which has everything a teacher could want to create an enriching cybersecurity curriculum.


Here are a few great places to start when building a cybersecurity education framework:


1. Elementary — Cybersecurity Basics


Children at an elementary level should start getting a baseline understanding of cybersecurity. This might include how to protect their personal information online and how to develop secure passwords. Older elementary students can begin discussing phishing, malware, and other cyberattack schemes that frequently target individuals and commercial entities.


2. Middle School — In-Depth Cybersecurity


Middle schoolers can begin to delve into yearlong coursework that teaches them applicable skills like coding. Many students at this age dabble in gaming, so Introduction to Coding may spark their interest in game development from a cybersecurity perspective. Other yearly classes to consider for these students include Introduction to PC Applications and PLTW Computer Science Essentials.


3. High School — Advanced Cybersecurity


After having spent their elementary and middle school years discovering more about cybersecurity, teens in high school will be ready to take their education to new levels. High schoolers could take classes like Cybersecurity I and II, Work-Based Cybersecurity Learning, and Computer Science Foundations — some of which may even overlap with coursework in other STEM classes.


Teaching cybersecurity may not have been on an educator’s mind when he or she entered the profession. Nevertheless, integrating cybersecurity into all lessons can not only give students a taste of this burgeoning career path but also help them stay safer personally and professionally.