In what can only be described as an odd move, PM Rishi Sunak recently announced intentions to teach maths until 18. While there may be some reasoning behind this move, one could argue that cybersecurity and technology are far more critical to teach. What challenges does the world face in terms of cybersecurity, why would teaching cybersecurity provide more benefit to the country, and does our attitude towards technology need to change?
What challenges does the world face in terms of cybersecurity?
With each passing year, the number of internet-connected devices across the globe continues to grow. While no one knows exactly how many devices there are, some estimates put the figure at around the 15 to 20 billion mark (keep in mind that individual users typically have one phone, computer, and some IoT device). As IoT technologies such as Matter become more commonplace, it won’t be long before hundreds of billions of devices exist. All of these will play critical roles in modern life, whether traffic control, environmental controls, or health monitoring.
However, connecting devices to the internet exposes those devices to malicious actors who may want to hack into devices to steal data, cause grief or spy on unsuspecting users. While a coffee machine may not be particularly problematic, a security camera or traffic light system poses genuine dangers, which is why cybersecurity is such an important industry.
Ensuring that devices are protected against malware can be done using numerous techniques, such as software routines and hardware circuitry, but at the end of the day, a security system is as strong as its weakest link, and this is often the user.
Why teaching cybersecurity would provide more benefit
Recently, the Prime Minister of the UK, Rishi Sunak, announced a plan that would see mathematics taught up till the age of 18, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out how that went down. For someone like myself, I studied maths at A-Level and continued to learn some crucial concepts when carrying on with my electronics degree, and while I can appreciate the importance of maths, teaching it to the masses is like trying to teach me poetry (in that it’s pointless). In fact, I have rarely done anything beyond basic addition, multiplication, and division in the many electronic circuits and products I have designed since leaving university.
Instead of teaching an abstract subject to those with little interest, it could be argued that teaching cybersecurity and the importance of data protection could provide far greater benefits. Considering how dependent modern life is on technology, learning how to properly use technology and protect it against malicious forces would not only help protect individual privacy and data but could even lead to a more security-oriented population. In fact, by teaching the population the dangers of insecure devices, the public could make better spending decisions and avoid using cheaper devices from countries known for data theft and espionage.
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Such a move would also help improve the UK’s economy by encouraging customers to purchase devices from reputable companies in the west (such as the UK and the US). This purchasing incentive would further help to strengthen infrastructure at all levels, and this purchasing attitude will quickly spread into companies. Finally, exposing students to the dangers of data theft could even see users less eager to hand out data to any online form that asks for it.
Finally, if such a course came with exams and grades, it could aid employment opportunities. For example, companies dealing with sensitive information may be more inclined to choose someone with fewer qualifications but who understands the importance of security and data risks. This would be especially true for companies that deal with defence contracts, nuclear energy, and patient medical data.
Does our attitude towards technology need to change?
Going forward, there is no doubt that our attitudes towards technology need to change, and the education system as it currently stands simply isn’t able to provide the quality education that young people need. The rise of social media, the growing problems faced by fake news, and the ideological bubbles many find themselves in restrict our ability to think critically, while the billions of insecure devices on the market leave many vulnerable to cyberattacks.
Of course, we can’t expect children to learn everything, and some concepts in cybersecurity can be challenging to teach, especially by educators who are a whole generation or two behind. But if the future is going to continue to integrate technology into everyday life, then it is a moral obligation to teach citizens exactly how their lives are being affected by technology, how to protect it, and what to do if things go wrong.