Australia’s big four banks, plus BT (British Telecom), have thrown their backing behind a new “Cyber Challenges” program for Australian schools.
Developed by the University of Sydney’s Australian Computing Academy, the four challenges aim to teach year seven to twelve students about information security through hands-on challenges.
The first challenge will make students explore personal data safety in a simulated social network, to bring infosec concepts to life. Subsequent Challenges will scale up to explain SQL injection attacks!
It’s hoped that schools will incorporate the Challenges into their classes, using them to deliver parts of the Digital Technologies curriculum or weaving them into other subjects. The Challenges, and supporting materials to deliver them and prepare teachers, are all free online.
The banks see the Challenges as a way educate their current and future customers, in two ways. The first assumes that kids who learn infosec at school fall for fewer scams, which will help kids avoid financial messes and wont hurt banks’ bottom lines.
All concerned also hope that kids will get the infosec bug and grow into the larger and more-skilled future workforce its universally agreed is needed about five years ago, and also in the immediate future.
The banks will promote the challenges in various ways: we were told that ads on ATM screens are a possibility, along with engagement through student financial literacy programs and even promotion by the dedicated bankers serving schools-as-customers.
That’s a lot of muscle and reach behind the program, leading the many stakeholders at todays’ launch to express optimism that combined with the obvious self-interest involved in learning how not to get hacked, this program might just achieve critical mass (which didn’t quite happen for other efforts like the CSIRO STEM Pros in Schools program, Code Club and many others).
But there are plenty of barriers to that happening.
Several in the audience at today’s launch used a Q&A session to question whether teachers have the skills to deliver the Challenges.
Associate professor James Curran, who co-developed the Australian Curriculum: Digital Technologies and is academic director of the Australian Computing Academy, told iTnews that teachers are delivering technology education that’s not evolved significantly since the 1980s. School educators at the launch event also used the Q&A to lament the state of teacher education.
Those behind the challenges hope that putting resources online will help to remedy that situation. But that’s just what happened when Google created courseware to help teachers prepare for the national Digital Technologies curriculum, and here we are several years later with lamentations about teachers’ skills unchanged.
It’s also unhelpful that the program was launched with the proclamation “AUSTRALIAN FIRST: CYBER SECURITY TO BE TAUGHT IN CLASSROOMS FROM 2019”, because that’s not true. Personal aspects of online safety have been taught in schools for some time. The curriculum for computing [PDF] in Victoria's VCE includes plenty of security-related material. The absolutism is also inappropriate because this is an opt-in program and even if schools adopt it, there’s no guarantee it will become part of mainstream curriculum – it could be shunted off into extra-curricular clubs or made optional.
It’s still worth celebrating the effort and the chutzpah – a target has been set of 20,000 participants in the program and 100 schools have already expressed interest in the program ahead of its formal launch today. Curran said he’ll consider 100,000 participants a sign of success.
At least some of the attendees showed they understand the challenges. AustCyber CEO Michelle Price made it clear what she meant with her observation that we are “living LNP education policy”. Others also lamented the slow changes to teacher training.
Perhaps these Challenges will change that. Perhaps the big four’s reach will make a difference. Perhaps a cohort of kids will be energised by the Challenges and take up IT careers.
Or perhaps today’s high-schoolers will get their taste of infosec, consider the technology industry's scandalous privacy practices and geopolitical strife, and go to the pub instead.