Professional development

7 ways K-12 teachers can help close the cybersecurity skills gap

May 14, 2020 by Dan Virgillito


Security professionals have grown ubiquitous across many industries. However, the workforce is still seeing a shortage of talent that actually has the knowledge and skills to defend businesses against cyber threats, especially at advanced levels of experience. In fact, due to a global surge in cybersecurity awareness (and consequently, hiring demand), the skills gap has actually widened. 

According to (ISC)², there’s a shortfall of over half-million professionals in the US and over four million globally. And last year, a staggering 65 percent of organizations reported having a lack of cybersecurity personnel, while a lack of experienced/skilled staff is the top risk concern among respondents (51 percent).

The situation is alarming. Fortunately, there is an effective way to fight the skills gap: education! Institutes from universities to colleges should aim to include cybersecurity courses in their curriculum. 

But we should keep in mind that learning starts as early as grade school. K-12 teachers can introduce children to the field early and coordinate with parents to prepare them for future roles. After all, early learning is critical to supplementing career awareness and future growth.

With that being said, how do you teach pupils so young the basics of cybersecurity? K-12 teachers can make use of the following strategies. 

1. Provide guidelines to prevent cyberbullying

The student experience is intertwined with an online experience. Not only do students communicate daily via blogs, chat rooms and social networks, a good deal of their homework, study material and even study groups are found online. 

But for many students, the online experience can be fraught with potentially traumatic, even life-threatening, interactions with cyberbullies. Cyberbullying doesn’t just hinder personal development; it could also discourage the victims from getting more involved in computer and security studies due to negative associations. 

Teachers can help defy this by providing a set of guidelines to prevent and handle cyberbullying. For instance, you can give examples of cyberbullying during lectures, as well as offering a clear chain of consequence for cyberbullying. Provide defined authority figures that students facing cyberbullying can confide in. Additionally, you can encourage them to think before posting and demonstrate how to improve privacy on social networks. 

2. Give students a role model to follow

Children and teens need someone they can look up to. If you want to encourage them to be an expert in the field of cybersecurity, consider introducing them to personalities they can emulate. Names like Brian Krebs and Kevin Mitnick can be brought up during lectures. Little girls in the class can be introduced to Window Snyder and other inspiring women in cybersecurity and show that they can be an equal part of the security conversation.

3. Encourage healthy competition

K-12 teachers can organize competitions within classrooms. Once students learn the basics of cybersecurity, you can use resources like picoCTF to host events within the class. Those who perform well in the competition can be directed towards competitions that are open to schools across the country, set of stimulating and challenging events on par with the debate club or Model UN. 

The National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education promotes cybersecurity competitions to pupils as young as primary school age. Contests typically require participants to mitigate simulated cyberattacks, identify the best cyberdefense tools and come up with innovative security strategies.

4. Create a cybersecurity dictionary

Another way to equip students with cybersecurity knowledge is to create a mini cybersecurity dictionary. You can make one by compiling a list of basic cybersecurity terms and explaining them in a simple manner. Once you have it ready, start sharing it with your students. Distribute copies and ask them to carry it in key lectures — such as those related to computer security. Get students to open it up by asking the definition of a cybersecurity term or two in homework. 

Taking these steps will help students get a good grasp of the basics and may even increase their interest in the cybersecurity field. It will also make them more comfortable thinking about what might otherwise be a very intimidating topic.

5. Coordinate with parents

During a parent-teacher meeting or open house, tell parents about the skills gap and how grooming their children to become future cybersecurity experts can help navigate a route to career success and meaningful work. 

Teachers should also encourage parents to reinforce the concepts they’re teaching in class, such as by explaining why it’s crucial to block emails and friend requests from strangers. Parents of children in kindergarten through fourth grade can keep it basic by having kids draw a picture of what they imagine when they hear the term “cybersecurity.” They might also ask them to give an example of someone working in cybersecurity and the tools they might use to fight a cyberthief.

6. Recommend training camps

Independent organizations often arrange cybersecurity camps for K-12 students. Examples include Tech Camps by ID Tech and Cyber Camps by the US Cyber Challenge. It’s up to teachers to learn more about such programs and encourage their students to enroll in them. 

Camps like these equip children with lots of valuable computer science skills and concepts like cryptography, network security and encryption. After a few weeks at the camp, young learners will have a great head start in the industry. Some organizations even provide scholarships to make it more affordable for students.

7. Work cybersecurity into the digital citizenship curriculum

Teaching students what it means to be a responsible digital citizen isn’t a new idea in K-12, but it can cover a range of topics, including that of cybersecurity. For example, you can collaborate with your fellow educators to broaden the digital citizenship curriculum so that it covers the importance of emailing responsibly, creating strong passwords and connecting to secure internet networks. 

For students in higher grades, you can also work in small exercises such as setting up Google Alerts with cybersecurity-related keywords so that whenever new videos, events or articles are posted online, they can be first to know of the latest developments in the field. The sooner that students and kids feel that cybersecurity and the associated technology is a natural part of their lives, the more likely that some will develop and nurture the passion into an educational track.


The need for enhanced cybersecurity awareness at a school level is no longer an afterthought. Equipping young minds with the knowledge, environment and encouragement needed to enter the field can make a world of difference and prepare them for higher-level positions. 

By implementing the tips above and establishing a community of cybersecurity advocates in K-12 settings, you can ensure that students will grow up security-conscious and become the security leaders of tomorrow.



  1. 2019 Cybersecurity Workforce Study, (ISC)2
  2. Elementary School Cyber Education Initiative, US CyberPatriot
  3. Integrating Cybersecurity into the K-12 Classroom,
Posted: May 14, 2020
Dan Virgillito
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Dan Virgillito is a blogger and content strategist with experience in cyber security, social media and tech news. Visit his website or say hi on Twitter.