CyberEye

By Patrick Marshall

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STEM

Drumbeat of data breaches sounds computer literacy alarms

According to the experts, there is a growing deficit of students and graduates with the skills needed to maintain and protect the nation’s IT systems. Jobs are waiting to be filled, but schools — particularly K-12 — are not providing the education needed to ready students for these jobs.

“We have a shortage of talent,” said Cisco’s chief security officer John Stewart. According to the company’s 2014 annual security report, there currently is a global shortage of 1 million security professionals at a time when the number and complexity of attacks against IT systems is growing. “Every enterprise is receiving more security alerts about services, software and hardware” that have to be evaluated, Stewart said, but there are not enough people to respond.

And government is not immune. In the past few months the Federal Election Commission was hacked, information on more than 1,500 persons was mistakenly mailed out by the VA Medical Center at Walla Walla, Wash., the Colorado governor’s office lost information on 18,800 state employees and Loudoun County Public Schools in Ashburn, Va., exposed student and staff data online.

The situation is only expected to get worse. At a recent hearing before the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Technology, figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics were cited predicting 1.4 million new computing jobs would be created in the next 10 years. Over the same time, however, the National Science Foundation predicted only 400,000 new computer science graduates would be available to fill them. 

Most of these jobs are not in tech companies, said Hadi Partovi, founder of Code.org, a nonprofit that promotes computer science education. An understanding of software and computers is required knowledge in the 21st century and needs to be taught in primary and secondary schools, he told lawmakers.

It is common knowledge that youngsters are tech savvy. But there is a difference in being able to use a device and understanding how it works. Real computer literacy, which involves some knowledge of programming and what is going on behind the interface, is something that must be taught. 

The need for more trained professionals has been recognized for some years now, and colleges and universities are stepping up to improve computer science education, including cybersecurity, in their graduate and undergraduate programs. But students are not graduating from high school with the skills needed to take advantage of these programs. 

The federal government spends about $3 billion a year to promote science, technology, engineering and math education, but only about 2 percent of that investment goes to computer science, said Partovi, and an alarming 90 percent of U.S. high schools have no formal computer science classes.

There is no question that kids like computers. Teaching them to understand devices beyond the touch screen should not be that much of a challenge. Doing so would benefit not only the students but the rest of our society as well.

Posted by William Jackson on Jan 17, 2014 at 8:42 AM


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