The US National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) has called on state leaders to work with schools and colleges to ensure that cyber-security, online safety and ethics lessons are integrated into every classroom.
The call has been made with support from companies including CA, McAfee, Microsoft and Symantec, along with educational organisations such as the Consortium for School Networking and the State Education Technology Directors Association.
Recent legislation dubbed the No Child Left Behind Act requires students to be technology-literate on completion of the eighth grade (year nine in the UK), and the NCSA argues that children should also be taught about the dangers of the web.
The National School Boards Association reported that 96 per cent of school districts claim that at least some of their teachers assign homework requiring internet use.
But there is still no formal education on how to stay safe, secure and ethical online, despite the fact that the internet, like the real world, has threats and dangers which students may come across in the normal course of a day.
These include communications from identity thieves, online predators and cyber-bullies.
A recent University of Michigan national poll on children's health issues found that adults ranked 'internet safety' as the seventh most important issue affecting children today.
"As more and more children and teens grow up in an online world, it is important that they understand how to behave online," said Ron Teixeira, executive director of the NCSA.
"Their safety and security depends on whether or not they talk to strangers, place personal information on social networking sites or secure their family's computer.
"It is critical that states and schools implement internet safety, security and ethics lessons into current technology literacy education efforts in order to protect children from identity theft as well as the nation's online infrastructure."
The NCSA is proposing cyber-awareness programmes that must incorporate the 'C3 principles' of cyber-ethics, safety and security. These include:
- Cyber Ethics Lessons which teach that hacking into someone's computer and taking information is just as wrong as breaking into someone else's home
- Cyber Bullying which is just as wrong as bullying someone on the playground
- Cyber Safety Lessons which incorporate social behaviour tips to protect children from online dangers, such as cyber-predators, harassment, unwanted communications and cyber-bullies
- Cyber Security Lessons which provide information on how to secure computers, identities and financial information
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