Teaching Cybersecurity to Children

A new draft of an Australian educational curriculum proposes teaching children as young as five cybersecurity:

The proposed curriculum aims to teach five-year-old children — an age at which Australian kids first attend school — not to share information such as date of birth or full names with strangers, and that they should consult parents or guardians before entering personal information online.

Six-and-seven-year-olds will be taught how to use usernames and passwords, and the pitfalls of clicking on pop-up links to competitions.

By the time kids are in third and fourth grade, they’ll be taught how to identify the personal data that may be stored by online services, and how that can reveal their location or identity. Teachers will also discuss “the use of nicknames and why these are important when playing online games.”

By late primary school, kids will be taught to be respectful online, including “responding respectfully to other people’s opinions even if they are different from personal opinions.”

I have mixed feeling about this. Norms around these things are changing so fast, and it’s not likely that we in the older generation will get to dictate what the younger generation does. But these sorts of online privacy conversations are worth having around the same time children learn about privacy in other contexts.

Posted on May 7, 2021 at 8:36 AM18 Comments


Erdem Memisyazici May 7, 2021 8:57 AM

Are we still teaching them privacy? I thought we were now teaching our kids to accept having no privacy.

I was first taught how 1984 was horrible, how important privacy is, only to be taught if I have nothing to hide I don’t need privacy and how governments, police, thieves, universities watches me watch everything and manipulate it.

So which is it? Are we pretending we have privacy or not? I know I don’t, but I work for Virginia Tech.

K12teacher May 7, 2021 10:09 AM

But these sorts of online privacy conversations are worth having around the same time children learn about privacy in other contexts.

Back when I did my student teaching I developed a series of lessons–a kind of mini science curriculum-to teach middle school students the conceptual basics of computer hacking. This wasn’t at the red-team blue-team level of actual skills; my lessons were more foundational concepts such as camouflage, predator-prey relationships, that sort of thing. My goal was to see if I could get them to think like an attacker.

It. Did. Not. Go. Well. Whether it was me, the lessons, or the kids I don’t know. I kept running up against the fact that most of my teenagers had a difficult time thinking at the proper level of abstraction; making the connection between animal behavior and behavior in the schools and online (which is to say, draw connections between contexts) was way over their heads. I had one or two students where maybe there was a glimmer but my major take-away from the experience back then was that one needed to scaffold the hell out of the kids and that there was no practical way to do that except in a school setting specifically designed around achieving those results, which isn’t a public k12 school in America. [I mean scaffold in the particular sense it is meant in Vygotsky’s theory of education.]

In hindsight, I was lucky to have a cooperating teacher who let me experiment like that but I never tried it again. I now consider it a success when the rare middle school student groks the idea of evolutionary adaptation.

So that leaves what Australia is doing, which is not education as such but training. And the problem with training, as Bruce sees, is that you may be training them for a world which won’t exist in 10-20 years. It’s difficult. The world we live in is so much more complex than when I was a child and we expect children to know so much more and to know it more quickly. Over the years I have become more jaded about the ability of education to prepare kids for the adult world. Is privacy an issue? Sure. Is it really a K12 issue? I have my doubts.

farm cowork May 7, 2021 12:51 PM

The first principle of true teaching is that nothing can be taught

All of our failures are public

Garabaldi May 7, 2021 1:46 PM

You are not only teaching children to live in 10-20 years in the future. You are also teaching them to live in next week.

Personally I think we have really messed up in creating a world where a child needs to hide their full name and date of birth. But kids need to live in that world.

oneofthose May 7, 2021 2:02 PM

“By late primary school, kids will be taught to be respectful online”

Yeah, they’ll be taught to be respectful of those with leftist opinions, i.e., matching the views of their teacher. Christians and others with different opinions will not be respected.

I would love it if children were taught to have polite discussions with people possessing different points of view instead of kneejerking with an “-ist” or “-phobe,” not to mention that doxing someone so that more violent leftists can intimidate them in person is world-class rude.

I am in full favor of teaching children how to be safe on the Internet, e.g., before clicking on a link, place the cursor over a link and then look at bottom-left (for Windows and Linux) to see what the URL actually is.

And they need to be taught that much of the content on the Internet is nonsense or worse.

David Leppik May 7, 2021 2:58 PM

The norms 10 years from now won’t be that different from the norms today, which aren’t as different from the norms 10 years ago as people think. My kids are nearly adults, they’ve had Google school accounts since they were barely able to type. The district has never let them change their passwords to be anything other than a guessable combination of a name and ID number.

They’ve needed this sort of training for 10 years, and the schools have been giving them the opposite. Except for the practical training they get from online hijinks.

This is clearly a step in the right direction.

Hampton the Hampster May 7, 2021 3:05 PM

My daughter is in this age

Never did cyber security training with her. But I explained her about not clicking pn all buttons in free to play games. The rest is all not exclusively online stuff. Common sense is also required offline…

Tim! May 7, 2021 3:07 PM

@oneofthose If you think disrespect and doxing are left-associated activities, I suggest you venture out of your bubble more. I assure you those behaviors are just as prevalent directed toward leftists (remember GamerGate?) as they are directed toward your team.

oneofthose May 7, 2021 4:09 PM

@David Leppik

“they’ve had Google school accounts since they were barely able to type”

And Google has been snarfing their data since day-one. Schools should not allow students to be taken advantage of in that manner. I told my niece about Duckduckgo and she has used it ever since then instead of Google. Schools should teach that Protonmail is orders of magnitude more private than Gmail.


I never voted for Trump, so I’m not defending any “team.” But the watered-down Red Guard tactics being used by leftists, e.g., what’s happening to J.K. Rowling vis-à-vis transgenders, have no parallel on the right.

Clive Robinson May 7, 2021 4:53 PM

@ k12teacher, ALL,

Australia is doing, which is not education as such but training. And the problem with training, as Bruce sees, is that you may be training them for a world which won’t exist in 10-20 years.

You’ve not indicated the difference between education and training, many believe it is the same thing, and the reason for training not education which is “lowest common denominator inclusion”.

For those that are unaware of the difference between education and training it generally is more subtle the younger the cohort you have to work with.

Training is sometimes called “Learning by rule/rote”[1] it is a mechanical rather than an intellectual process. Education is a bit more subtle[2] but enables a student to ask a question not of the teacher but of their own knowledge and refrence material available to them. It should be the point where the teacher guides the learner rather than dictates to them. It is in effect the “spring board” from which a student starts to become self teaching, with the teacher just smoothing the way.

The real problem is that those most capable of self teaching are also those with inquisitive and aquisitive minds. Unfortunately such minds unless kept on course tend to spin off into other thoughts. The easiest way to do this is in effect to hold them back and make them bord.

That is the teaching to the lowest common denominator is actually more harmfull to society than leaving them behind.

For a number of years now “streaming” has been a very dirty and non PC word. Why is something I don’t propose to go into as those who have will know why. Likewise is the notion that children should not be competitive (something a moments thought will tell you evolution demands of us).

The best way to teach is to have a group of students who are on very nearly the same ability level and introduce a strong sense of competitiveness, as individuals as groups and as teams. They don’t get bored and they tend to actually encorage each other.

Unfortunatly getting students into near equivalent abilities tends to be resource intensive as it causes smaller groups in any age range, it also need better than current average teaching. Apparently this need for resources and abilities is very undisirable with most politicians because they have what they consider better use for them… And lets be honest what politician realy wants a population that can both think and reason? After all that just makes their job of misleading you the public more difficult.

But there is another problem, to be educated requires that you be able to build knowledge from fundementals. Thus if something changes you have the resiliance to change with it. Employers who influance educators realy do not want you knowing the fundementals, they want you to only know what is usefull to them.

One thing I keep coming up against is students who have been “Trained to the tools” thus when the tool changes or gets replaced with something else they are like a drowning person with no rock to stand upon. Someone who knows the fundementals and how to use them to build up from there will not drown, they will simply wade their way to new ground.

As part of my education I was taught the fundementals of “tool making” thus if I need to, and occasionaly I do, I will take an existing tool such as a screwdriver and work it into a different tool purpose made for a specific job such as to work not with standard “Sloted Cheese Head fastenings” but those anoying security fastenings.

Likewise I know how to make rudimentry and imprecise electrical instruments and calibrate them so that I can test more complex electronic instruments thus “pull myself up by my bootstraps” to making very precise and quite complex equipment. I’ve had to do this quite frequently when there is no suitable test equipment made. This is what experimental physicists do all the time as do other hard science researchers. You are only as good as the tools you can make.

Likewise sodtware if you know and understand various fundementls such as abstract data objects and the basic operators, then you care not what language you are presented with or the tool chain you get given you can move forward. Again you can use one language such as a simple interpreter to build your own tool chain for a compiler etc.

It might be great that you can wizz out applications for mobile phones in a language like Java, but as we know languages come and go all the time as do the IDE’s that come with them. At some point java will become the Fortran of it’s time or worse the Cobal… Will you be able to just shrug and pick up a new language?

For my sins I’ve learnt and forgotton more assembly languages than most people half my age could even name. Did I suffer a crisis when switching? NO I fairly quickly learnt to write assembler in a language independent way thus with a built up library of such code I could more or less hit the ground running and be productive. Even I would be the first to admit the code would not be efficient, but then 999 times out of a thousand it does not matter an iota. You get code up and running then profile it, where there are issues you flick through the manual to find more processor specific instructions, invariably you pick up a few tips and tricks along the way that you file for future use.

Sometimes you do get a few oddities that can throw you. One such is the use of branches and jumps. Usually you “branch on condition met” but some processors will only branch over a “jump to address” thus you have to think about branching when the required condition is not met. It’s easy to “sprain a tired brain” when you do such things 😉

I’ve seen some programmers get comoleatly thrown by this, and my advice to them is “draw up a table of equivalents” which sometimes they can not do because they’ve not got the fundementals down right…

[1] Rote learning is often defined as the memorization of information based on repetition, it can also be called learning by “sitting next to Nellie”. Actually no inteligent thought is required as in effect you are memorising facts or rules, both of which computers are better at than humans.

The two examples nearly every one is aware of, of “learning by rote” are the alphabet and numbers, from when very young. It is used to get a very basic foundation in place of a minimum level on which other lessons can be built. Slightly more complicated, and at a level of education above that includes addition and multiplication tables and spelling words by rules. Less obvious is that learning to add, subtract, multiply and divide are also “learning by rote” this time however it’s not the facts in the tables but the rules by which you do the operations. When pupils get older and advance to the high-school level, learning by rote decreases, even though basic facts for the likes of science such as the chemical elements and their respective numbers and groups will stll need to be memorized by rote. One charecteristic of learning by rote that appears to have been forgoton by many in recent times is “memorising by longhand”. If I give you a printed page, whilst it is easy for me, it takes a pupil about five times longer to get into their memory, than by making them write it out longhand, for some reason not well explained it appears most brains still work on the “manual skills” learning of our pre human ancestors.

[2] Education kind of starts badly for most, because they do not have the skills for it, and we are uncertain as to how to teach them and just cross our fingers and hope students learn it by osmosis or similar. Put simply Education is learning in a very different way, where you are presented with information often in the writen form, you read it, analyze it and draw conclusions from it, based on earlier learning. This requires that a student has at least rudimentry logic skills and can understand extensible systems when presented with them. Thus not only do they need logic they need the equivalent of symbolic representation or algebra. For instance in theory polynomials should be no harder to understand than writing down large numbers, but few students in their teens appear to be able to grasp the fact, and it can be more painfull than watching five year olds learning how to write large numbers. Knowing polynomials is a prerequisite for learning how to work effectively in other number bases and how to learn more advanced mathmatics such as series and certain forms of matrix usage. Often though they get taught the other way around… As for set theory which effectively underpins maths, and several other subjects, it appears to be “pot luck” if you ever get taught it.

Impossibly Stupid May 7, 2021 5:07 PM

The proposed curriculum aims to teach five-year-old children

What a strange approach to safety. Rather than passing laws to stop the adults from abusing their young children in the first place, they expect the children to be able to defend themselves from trillion dollar international corporations run by sociopaths. That’s a dramatic reversal from their approach to things like gun control.

including ?responding respectfully to other people?s opinions even if they are different from personal opinions.?

Oh, goodness, no! Don’t feed the trolls. At all. Don’t pretend that any anonymous rando’s “opinions” have significant value. Don’t be respectful to pedophiles. Or Nazis. Or the KKK. Or partisan political hacks. Or any of the pro/anti mobs that are out there trying to drive the masses to extremism. Don’t even be respectful when people agree with you if they’re doing it for all the wrong reasons.

Internet Individual May 7, 2021 6:54 PM

@ Clive Robinson

You are right on the money regarding how children are taught math. I happen to have learned this first hand recently. Several years ago when enrolling back into college for security, I had to take Math exams for placement. I was given a paper with some practice exercises to give the students an idea of where they should be. It was at this point I realized I had never really learned math. I mean, I was shown the steps one can take in order to “solve” a certain type of equation.. However, I certainly couldnt visualize or reference what I was doing to any practical application. Soon those memorized steps where forgotten as they had little real world utility.

I ended up having to teach myself at Kahn Academy inorder to get to get where I needed to be. I had to go back further then I care to admit. However, I ended up enjoying what i needed to learn more than I thought. Lucky for me computers work in two numbers, 0’s and 1’s, numbers I can wrap my head around. One Cheeseburger or no Cheeseburger. Im still no good at math, though I like to tell myself its for other reasons.

Nick May 7, 2021 7:23 PM

I learned cybersec in school. I was taught never to give out my real name or address. Of course that’s not the case anymore for us, but it is good to level set as a child. I give away my name all the time, so it didn’t harm me.

Rather, it was good to make sure I didn’t give away this info until I was ready.

Winter May 8, 2021 5:39 AM

“You’ve not indicated the difference between education and training, many believe it is the same thing, and the reason for training not education which is “lowest common denominator inclusion”.”

The best illustration of the difference I know is Classical Athens versus Sparta. Socrates talking to his students to let them understand versus the endless drills and exercises of the Spartan military.

You need both. You need understanding and knowledge to apply the learning correctly. You need experience and training to actually apply the learning effectively..

A story I heard at university where students were unable to do calculations with fractions. They had “learned” them in highschool. However, they never exercised and lacked the training to apply it in practice.

John May 15, 2021 6:14 AM

precisely! don’t share any personal info to schools, dmv, or any government agencies, insurance companies, basically to everyone! use a pseudoname instead. that way children will grow up unknown but mostly secure with their personal lives.

Mark June 6, 2021 2:34 AM

To add a bit more context, the National Curriculum was introduced under the Rudd government (Labor, centre-left). It’s the usual leftwing “experts” telling us all what to think and do. Gramsci and Dutsche would be proud: The Left’s long march through the institutions in full flow.

Australia in recent years has had a number of very controversial education programmes in Victoria, namely “Safe Schools” and “Respectful Relationships”, under which gender is taught as “socially constructed”, which, of course, is anti-science nonsense, but it’s now the default position of the political left in Australia.

The curriculum — not yet endorsed but currently under feedback from voters — also focuses heavily on Australia’s “history wars”, giving a very biased, leftwing view of Australia’s settlement by the British. Move over the NYT’s 1619 Project; we have a new contender in town.

Likewise, the curriculum proposes to remove Judeo-Christian values for the Left’s multiculturalism ideology, and the curriculum is heavy on identity politics, leans into critical race theory, and focuses heavily on climate change.

There are a number of other leftwing topics covered by the curriculum, and we have no idea who is even writing the curriculum. Maths is also watered down.

Australia’s PISA results are, unsurprisingly, terrible because the federal government (a coalition between the Nationals and Liberals, centre-right) won’t fight the culture wars… which are dominated by the Left.

Moreover, teachers, teachers’ unions, pedagogy (education philosophy), universities, “education experts” are pretty much all dominated by the Left. Hopefully the federal government will reject the proposed changes, but that’s unlikely given there will be an election early next year, and the federal government rarely criticises the Left because the media backlash is strong.

(The same federal government refuses to call out the leftwing state government in Victoria, which is responsible for 90% of COVID-19 deaths in Australia.)

To cyber security, of course it’s stupid to teach young children cyber security, because it’s a government programme, and hence it’s likely to be years behind what is relevant. Likewise, the curriculum is already far too crowded, and it’s yet another subject that teachers need to learn.

“…kids will be taught to be respectful online, including “responding respectfully to other people’s opinions even if they are different from personal opinions.” ”

This smacks of government telling students what is or isn’t acceptable. And we all know what that means: Yet more leftwing indoctrination along intersectional lines. Don’t expect children to be taught about free speech.

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