Rubber ducks, a US Air Force sergeant, and my introduction to cybersecurity in schools.

Due to the low 30Cs temperatures of early fall in Virginia and with the school air conditioning not operating at full capacity, many Albemarle High School teachers would leave their doors open which would allow a sneak peek into their classrooms. One particular day, I passed by the open door of the computer science teacher and my attention was attracted to rows of rubber ducks on a table. Ms. Holley beckon me to come in as a US Air Force Sergeant was giving a talk about the US Cyberpatriot program, that the school was looking to participate in. The Air Force Sergeant showed this TED talk from James Lyne and the last couple of minutes of that video has stuck with me. Lyne refers to how schools have to manage to develop the future talent pool to serve the sector. As I sat through the presentation, I realized that this was something that was going to be a worldwide issue rather than just a competition for a class of AP Computer Science students sitting in a muggy classroom in Virginia.

As a result, I’ve kept my eyes and ears open for any programs or leadership on cybersecurity for schools in Ireland or in Europe, and in the past couple of years, some positive news has emerged. Cyber Ireland recently held a webinar for second-level students on careers in cybersecurity and advertised a cyber camp that includes a National Cyber Schools Challenge. The recently launched P-Tech from IBM includes elements of cybersecurity.

As this post goes live, we have seen the health services being attacked by outside hackers with ransomware attacks. This raises the issue of cybersecurity in education; how well prepared are we, what measures can we take, and do we have a backup plan for that worst-case scenario?  What are our responsibilities in educating our students about these risks? Many US school IT managers access a K12 cybersecurity course from COSN although there is a big need to demystify cybersecurity and make it more accessible and engageable within education as very few Irish schools would have a dedicated IT manager.

Malcom X once said “We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock; the rock was landed on us“. I am afraid that cybersecurity rock has landed on us in education.  

There is a wider conversation needed on this topic that this short blog post cannot deliver on, in less than 400 words.

Incidentally, the rubber ducks serves a useful purpose in debugging code. CS teachers take note!

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