Reef Pearson, SecureTeam Correspondent

Over Half of 7-Year-Olds Have Smartphones, So Why Doesn’t Cybersecurity Education Begin in KS1?

In a world where 53% of 7-year-olds own a mobile phone, cybersecurity education needs to begin as soon as KS1 if we want to nurture a safe, tech-literate generation.

Owning a mobile phone is now an essential and inevitable part of our lives. Starting at the age of 7, 53% of children own a smartphone, and this figure rises to a whopping 99% when you reach the 16-24 age bracket. Out of the half of children that do own a smartphone, 39& admit that they couldn’t live without it. Although this might sound rather ludicrous, we live in a society where 1 in 3 households own a virtual assistant, so it should hardly come as a surprise that our next generation is being raised so technology-dependent. Our tech habits are affecting children in households from the second they’re born, so we need to take responsibility for educating them on tech literacy and safety just as we would with reading and writing.

It’s likely that education hasn’t yet been made an essential part of the school syllabus because navigating the internet is so complex and such a hard thing to teach - as well as being debatable whether it’s a parent’s or teacher’s responsibility.

The reality is that children are not born technology-dependent, but as society raises them that way, the least that we can do is demonstrate the best practices for keeping them safe. As this cybersecurity education needs to be of consistently high quality across all children, it needs to be the responsibility of educating bodies and not parents to enforce these changes.

Why Education is The Solution, Not Discouraging Usage

It is no secret that the internet can be a dark place, especially for young people. But 56% of parents reportedly give their children a smartphone for their own peace of mind, as it brings a sense of safety and security - so it’s unlikely that the negative risks outweigh the benefits for many people. The ability to communicate instantaneously with your child is so important, which is why disallowing smartphone use amongst children isn’t an option many parents wish to consider - further highlighting the importance and urgency of improved education.

What Cybersecurity Education is Currently Provided?

The UK government currently offers advice and guidance to early years practitioners on cybersecurity, but this is tailored to educators protecting their students rather than teaching pupils how to protect themselves. For older students, there is an organisation called CyberFirst that offers optional training and courses for 11-17 year-olds in schools, alongside the government Cyber School programme for 14 to 18 year-olds which is again an optional resource. However, this is not enforced in every school and doesn’t address children younger than 11, and certainly not KS1 pupils.

For the resources that are available, the core focus seems to be cybersecurity from a data protection perspective. Whilst this is a crucial pillar of what needs to be taught, it should be integrated with simple basic advice on best navigating the internet, apps, email, and different ways of communicating online. For example, what information not to share online, the potential for people to lie about who they are, and the inability to take back something that you’ve posted. This type of information is an essential foundation for the more complicated data protection topics that children will be taught in the future. Not only will this help them to excel in a working life that is shaped around tech, but it will also protect them from danger and the vulnerabilities that smartphone use comes with.

Why Action Needs To Be Taken Now

Over the course of the pandemic, fraud reports surged by a third, with scammers accurately impersonating the likes of WHO, Netflix and Royal Mail in phishing attempts that are sophisticated enough to trick experienced adults, let alone children. This is just an example of the risks that extend to anyone that owns a smartphone, no matter what their age is. Children aren’t immune to scam texts are phishing so they deserve to be taught with the exact same urgency as an adult’s education on the subject.

A child becoming a victim of a catfishing attempt or account hack shouldn’t be the catalyst for change the government needs to realise the severity of the situation. If compulsory introductory lessons on basic internet safety practises were introduced into schools from KS1 then children would develop good online habits and we would raise a more tech-literate generation that is savvier about cybersecurity issues and therefore safer. At a foundation level, the focus should be on topics as simple as not meeting strangers, not sending hurtful messages, and not sharing images of yourself or your personal details online. When the majority of UK households are dominated by Amazon, Ring doorbells and Netflix, educating children on technology is as essential as reading and writing.

Reef Pearson, SecureTeam Correspondent

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