In today’s digital age, teaching children to code seems like a fantastic idea. Children are already spending huge amounts of time using technology, whether it’s a laptop, smartphone or tablet device and these IT skills can be essential in their future careers. However, whilst we must help a new generation of competent workers prepare for the digital world, how can we make sure that children will use their coding and programming skills for good and not evil?
Over the past years we’ve seen a number of technological innovations aimed at equipping children with basic programming and coding skills – from the Raspberry Pi to the recently launched Hackaball, a programmable ball aimed towards 6-10 year-old children. This demographic has been a key target for the UK government who have dominated the primary computing curriculum since September 2014.
However, with these skills being so easily transferrable to illegal activities such as hacking and cybercrime, how can we ensure that the lure of mischief, malice and money won’t sway children to ‘the dark side’? In January of this year, a seven-year-old girl hacked a public Wi-Fi network in just over ten minutes by learning how to set up a rogue access point to activate what is known as a ‘man in the middle’ attack. We know that this is already happening – hackers as young as 16 years old have been arrested for cybercrime, and the Home Office has warned that young video game hackers could be the next generation of cybercriminals.
So how can we tackle this? When it comes to children and young adults, the first place to start is at school and at home. Responsible adults, teachers and parents have a duty to ensure that their children, or pupils, are not engaging in criminal activity, and this is no different in the cyber world.
However, the problem we encounter here is the massive gulf between adults and children when it comes to understanding technology. An Ofcom survey released in August last year found that younger people have a far more advanced understanding of technology devices than adults – with 6 year olds having the same level of knowledge as the average 45 year old. In fact, teenagers aged between 14-19 years old are the most digitally confident in the UK.
If teachers and parents are to monitor and guide young people’s use of technology and make sure they’re not becoming involved in cybercrime, they must first be able to understand the technology themselves.
Secondly, we must consider the types of devices and technology that young people are using and put appropriate security measures in place to limit the possibility of malicious use. Technology like the Windows To Go USB Flash Drive would give young coders a replica desktop, just like the one they have at school, that they can take home and use on any device, without affecting or accessing the data and operating system sitting on that device. With a Windows To Go device it’s very easy to manage activity. The school can control the transfer of information and wipe, delete, monitor actions on the device, this way, the youngsters can hone their coding skills without being able to get in trouble by conducting activities outside the school’s remit.
What is clear is that we must not discourage children from learning these skills – they are absolutely essential for future employment and also play an important role in their everyday socialising with their peers. We must also accept that we cannot stop this evolution. Children are already learning these skills, with or without your knowledge and input, so the best we can do is to help shape that knowledge and put them on a good path.