Safe, Secure Digital Education Goes Hand in Hand with Sustainable Development
Every country faces the challenge of bridging the divide between digital immigrants (those born before the rise of modern technology) and digital citizens (those born after). For some formerly underdeveloped countries, the internet and connected devices have great potential to help them join and participate in the developed world. The most obvious way to bridge the divide between digital immigrants and citizens is through education.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is heavily focused on the development of the digital citizen, and our Ministry of Education is undergoing a considered, extensive digital transformation. These new digital practices and initiatives are helping the Kingdom rank among the most developed countries of the world. We’ll talk about the path we used to get there.
Many of these initiatives are meant to help digital immigrant catch up with the requirements of the 21st century. But what about digital natives? This new generation that came of age during the digital transformation senses the importance of technology and is passionate about how to exercise its potential in the future. One of the benefits is that it opens wide access to the outside world.
A large segment of this generation is insufficiently aware of the new dangers posed by the online world, namely that personal information is publicly available. It is necessary to protect yourself. One of the focuses of my work for the Ministry of Education is how to implement systems that teach our students about the importance of electronic security while they take advantage of these new tools.
Technological Education for Sustainable Development
Let’s take a step back to look at the broader picture of how technology and education go hand in hand with the Kingdom’s development goals.
The Ministry of Education’s mandate is to provide a best-in-class educational environment to suit the Kingdom’s education policy. At the same time, we aim to raise the quality of our students’ educational achievement, increase the effectiveness of scientific research, and encourage creativity and innovation.
It is therefore no surprise that education is so central to Vision 2030, the Kingdom’s ambitious development plan. Through its Vision 2030 goals, the Ministry of Education considers the importance of education to:
- development of infrastructure
- civil systems
- GDP growth
- national industries
- community health and wellbeing
- R&D and innovation
- economic diversification
- building qualified human resources that meet the market’s labor demands
All these efforts build toward a program of sustainable development.
My work within the Ministry of Education focuses on the management of programs and technical systems. It is my job to ensure the educational process pillars are integrated with these systems. We must also guarantee those working in education—teachers, administrators, and management—have full knowledge of these systems to improve the quality of education. As technology is ever evolving, I seek solutions that can keep pace with the rapid development of the world today.
Challenges on the Road to 2030
To some, Vision 2030’s goals for education might seem self-evident: Every country wants to use education to drive innovation; every country wants to build a diversified economy with a well-educated workforce. What you must keep in mind is that for a country without the historical benefit of a strong education system, our challenges are not merely of keeping pace but—on some metrics—catching up.
Some of the challenges the Ministry of Education faces in reaching our Vision 2030 commitments include:
- a negative stereotype toward the education profession
- a lack of educational services for some student groups
- a weak investment environment for private education
- the absence of services to support a flourishing education industry
As a result, in some instances, we see low-quality curricula, reliance on traditional teaching methods, and poor evaluation skills. This all adds up: It results in an education system poorly suited to labor market needs, let alone stimulating creativity and innovation. Achieving our Vision 2030 goals will represent a transformation in education.
Under the title “Future Gate,” the Ministry plans a full metamorphosis of all schools in the Kingdom for the digital era. We must emphasize communication, quality of information, development of community partnership, and parental participation in their child’s educational journey. We are also implementing a “Virtual Schools” initiative, which helps resolve access to education in remote areas. The location of some schools means students and teachers would otherwise have to travel great distances to and from school, occasionally putting them at risk.
Choosing a Partner with the Flexibility We Need
To help with this grand vision, we chose Cisco CDA/Net Academy. We did so because of Cisco’s reputation as a world-leading IT company and because the platform’s models in cybersecurity had the flexibility to achieve our digital transformation goals.
We needed to readdress our educational processes because the new generation of students, made up of digital natives, do not always accept traditional ways of education. To reach this generation and create a safe technical environment for digital citizens, we therefore needed to retrain teaching professionals.
Net Academy allowed us to build an advanced program built on a train-the-trainer concept using Net Academy-approved Arabic cybersecurity content. From this, our educators can further generate materials to meet their classroom’s specific needs.
Early Success in Building Awareness
We are now in phase one of our Cybersecurity Awareness program, launched during the Summer Training Initiative, which is a Ministry of Education professional development program for teachers. While this is still an early stage, we’ve already seen the benefits of the self-learning platform as teachers move through this first phase of the program.
Phase one trained 644 teachers from across the Kingdom through the Cisco Net Academy platform. A group of teachers translated Cisco’s Arabic language content and were accredited by the Cisco Net Academy. I then developed three training catalogs to introduce cybersecurity and its essentials based on Cisco Net Academy courses. During the summer training, we encouraged teachers to produce Arabic content on cybersecurity. In the end, we collected more than 600 Arabic multimedia educational presentations on this topic.
Trainees commented that Networking Academy is a wonderfully interactive platform that includes written activities, multimedia, educational games, and also allows the user to manage their progress. The trainer uses the platform to create a powerful, easy-to-use interface that the teacher can then customize for their own class, using add-ons to achieve the Ministry’s goals for technical education. The platform therefore provides continuous interaction between trainer and trainee, and monitors all the work within those platforms while keeping them safe and secure.
Among other things, we are building awareness with this platform: awareness of the existence of and danger posed by cyberattacks. These can threaten the security of entire countries, and individuals need to know the steps they can take to avert these attacks. Protecting data is primarily a personal responsibility, but it has big implications for the larger community. Ingraining that message into the consciousness of the individual will be a major outcome of this program.
Preparing a Young Generation to Build Our Future
The thing that drives me personally in this initiative is the importance of localizing this technology in educational communities. I truly believe educational communities are the incubators for the development of any science. This means teachers are the delivery arm to lead training in this vital area. When I look to the future, I’m excited by the enthusiasm teachers have shown in Cisco Net Academy and how it equips them in this field. It means we are ready to become a distinguished incubator for larger fields, and to stop wasting time teaching irrelevant material.
The rapid technical progress we are witnessing makes us eager to keep pace with this change. This rate of change also emphasizes the necessity of digital security being integrated with digital development, particularly safe technical practice for young people. After all, they are the builders of our future. Cisco’s Country Digitization Acceleration is helping the Kingdom build its fortress of technical knowledge and expertise, refined by practice.