Ghana needs to take advantage of the ongoing curriculum reform in junior and senior high schools to include cybersecurity in its information communication technology syllabus.
This would prepare the next generation of Ghanaian children for a safer digital future which is currently threatened by increasing exposure to unhealthy online content. This is the proposal of stakeholders at a national roundtable on addressing Ghana’s cyber security capacity needs in Accra.
With a few schools running cybersecurity clubs while child online safety has become a growing concern, they said the current system discriminated against students who did not belong to clubs.
They, therefore, want cybersecurity awareness and capacity building in schools mainstreamed through the curriculum rather than school clubs to benefit all students.
“Club activities in schools have been disrupting academic work, according to the Ghana Education Service. So, if we have ICT being taught in schools as a subject, what stops us from aligning security conversations through ICT lessons?” the Executive Director of Child Online Africa, Awo Aidan Amenya, said.
Experts say young people under 18 are the most attracted to the internet and the most likely to face risk including cyberbullying, exposure to inappropriate content and invasion of privacy. They are also unlikely to know about the sophisticated phishing and other malware schemes that criminals use to seize control of digital devices, compromise email and text messages or spy on online activities in an attempt to steal one’s identity or financial information.
However, Amenya said a sustained empowerment of children in schools could make cybersecurity a lifestyle issue among children.
“If you belong to a club, you will be informed about cybersecurity but if you don’t belong to a club, you’ll be ignorant about it. We can make this a lifestyle issue for the children if it is in the ICT curriculum,” she said.
Helpline vs hotline
Mrs Amenya was also worried that there was still no dedicated helpline that addressed the concerns of children online.
“It is not enough for us to have a hotline; we need a helpline and a child line. The difference is that the hotline allows the public to reach out, the helpline offers counselling and the child line offers services that are not within the helpline and the hotline. We need to have all three working together and speaking to each other.”
Other participants who bought into the idea of curriculum reform advocated that the Cyber Security Authority and civil society groups should consider introducing peer-educator initiatives into schools to tame the pervasive interest in pornography and betting among students.
Others also raised concern about the knowledge deficit of teachers handling ICT in schools and called for ways to bridge the gap.
“We must also make sure that teachers who are instructing students are mindful of their own standards. It will interest you to know that teachers who are teaching ICT are not mindful of cybersecurity issues.”
Responding the concerns, Emmanuella Darkwah, the Deputy Manager in charge of International Cooperation at the Cyber Security Authority said the cyber regulator, would consider the idea of peer educators in schools.
She observed while most countries were concerned about protecting critical infrastructure, Ghana’s approach was to strengthen the capacity of individuals not to make themselves vulnerable to cyberattacks.
“Our position is to provide a deeper understanding that technology use is not a bad thing, but its malicious use is what we must prevent. We currently have a trainer of trainer’s programme for judges. Having one for schools is a welcome idea,” she said.
Delivering the welcome address, the Executive Director of the MFWA, Sulemana Braimah, noted that it was one thing having the Cybersecurity law and another thing people taking advantage of it and using it to empower themselves.
He said it was important to educate and empower the citizenry to understand the law and also use it to assert their rights as they engaged in the cyber and digital space.
Contributing to the discussions, a representative from Ghana’s Computer Emergency Response Team, Stephen Cudjoe Seshie, said the authority was running cybersecurity programmes in schools to create awareness.
He said while the authority was interested in public safety online, it was important that internet users take personal responsibility for their safety.
He advised the public not to use the same password across the different platforms as it made it easy for cyber criminals to take over all other accounts of a victim if account one is compromised.
The event, which was organised by the Media Foundation for West Africa with support from the UK-based Global Partners Digital Ltd, was meant track the progress the country had made in building its cybersecurity capacity and its challenges.