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Worried About Hackers? Call a Girl Scout

The Girl Scouts of the USA will soon offer badges in cybersecurity for girls in grades K-12 as part of a growing national effort to bring technological skill and digital savvy to America's school children.

"We recognize that in our increasingly tech-driven world, future generations must possess the skills to navigate the complexities and inherent challenges of the cyber realm," Girl Scouts chief executive officer Sylvia Acevedo said in a statement.Girls-Scouts-historical-blog.jpg

"From arming our older girls with the tools to address this reality to helping younger girls protect their identities via internet safety, the launch of our national cybersecurity badge initiative represents our advocacy of cyber preparedness."

The badges will cover everything from staying safe online and combatting cyberbullying to "the kinds of skills that cybersecurity experts need to combat theft, extortion, espionage, data manipulation, and other criminal acts," Suzanne Harper, the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) strategy lead for Girl Scouts of the USA, said in a written response to questions.

The organization will develop its new curriculum alongside security company Palo Alto Networks, with the help of a cybersecurity advisory board. The tentative plan is to release badges for scouts in grades K-5 by summer 2018, with badges for older scouts available the following summer.  The focus on cybersecurity is part of a larger effort to promote STEM among the 1.8 million girls who are part of the Girl Scouts. 

The emphasis will be on hands-on learning that gives girls the confidence to do things they may have previously believed were impossible, or at least not for them.

"Girls enjoy doing projects that give them practical experience and the satisfaction of doing something in real life," Harper said. "With these badges and Girl Scouts' other STEM initiatives, we hope to supplement girls' in-school education with hands-on learning which is one of the best ways to learn STEM."

Last month, President Trump signed an executive order that called for a comprehensive review of the country's cybersecurity-education and workforce-development efforts, including in K-12.

In March, Education Week provided a comprehensive roundup of existing efforts around the country, which are currently supported by the National Governors Association and eight different federal agencies.

One of the biggest questions in the field is how to balance competing priorities, including training workers, protecting the nation's infrastructure and information, and developing strong digital citizens.

For the Girl Scouts, the new initiative will serve a variety of purposes, Harper said. For younger girls, it's about staying safe online and protecting their privacy. For slightly older girls, the focus might be on protecting financial information or social media accounts. And for high school students, the focus will likely include career exposure and training. 

"This national effort is a huge step toward eliminating traditional barriers to industry access, such as gender and geography, and will target girls as young as five years old, helping to ensure that even the youngest girls have a foundation primed for future life and career success," Harper said.

Photo: A Girl Scout teaches a Brownie in this undated photo. AP-File


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