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Cybersecurity: A Call to International Educational Leaders

Updated: Oct 22, 2022

By Jane Blanken-Webb, Ph.D., Assistant Professor

Wilkes University International Doctoral Program

Today, digital technologies have dramatically shifted the ways we manage everything from our finances to our friendships, touching into the daily operations of virtually every sector—including education. This is evident through schools’ increasing reliance upon internet connected technologies to manage everything from learning outcomes and student data, to human resource functions involving hiring, payroll, and managing employee benefits. Even school telephone systems, HVAC, and lighting controls are increasingly migrating over to Internet Protocol networks (Levin, 2019). As schools open up more and more of their vital operations to internet connected technologies, they are at the same time becoming ever more vulnerable to the threats of cyber-attacks. Today, the reality we now face is that “every internet user is at serious risk of identity fraud, data theft, and invasion of digital privacy” (Morgan, 2019).

In light of this rapidly shifting cyber landscape, educational leaders will increasingly be positioned to guide the use of digital technologies both in and out of schools. Accordingly, there are three overlapping areas related to cybersecurity that educational leaders need to be cognizant of in order to lead proactively and responsively in the digital age.

1. Managing school networks and sensitive data

Managing the technical side of cybersecurity in schools is critical. Threats ranging from student hackers breaking into school networks and changing grades to ransomware attacks that render vital data inaccessible unless a ransom is paid are now a reality that schools need to be prepared to contend with (see for example: CBS News, 2018a and 2018b). However, beyond threats involving intruders scheming to hack into a school’s network, school districts are also shockingly experiencing data breaches involving sensitive data due to internal mishandling information. This was the case in a 2018 massive data breach that took place in Pennsylvania, which left every teacher in the state at risk of having their personal information stolen (Murphy, 2018). Cases like this bring to light a significant insight in cybersecurity: the biggest cybersecurity threats are not those posed directly by malicious hackers, but rather end users who unknowingly or carelessly leave cyber doors wide open.

To combat the “wicked problem” of keeping schools cybersecure, Doug Levin from the K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center offers the following suggestions (adapted from Levin, 2017):

· Establishing minimum standards of security practices for schools and school vendors;

· Public accountability as well as legal liability for lax security practices and data breaches;

· Cybersecurity capacity building among school IT staff;

· Education pertaining to basic IT privacy and security practices for all administrators, teachers, and students;

· Establishing centralized mechanisms for information sharing and guidance to schools pertaining to cybersecurity issues.

Levine (2019) urges that addressing this challenge will involve systemic, meaningful, and evolving long-term efforts. “It won’t be solved by an infusion of money, new technologies, new policies and regulations, or a cybersecurity awareness campaign; all are likely necessary, but how they are implemented and evolve over time to meet the specific and idiosyncratic needs and constraints facing public K-12 schools will matter most of all” (p. 13-14).

2. Digital citizenship

Schools around the globe have an important role to play in educating digital citizens. This includes imparting knowledge of best practices related to cyber safety, but also empowering students to make good use of their online interactions. Along with the immense capacity to touch a world of information with a tap of the finger, comes risks of misuse, manipulation, and outright abuse. Today’s students need to be prepared to effectively manage digitally connected environments in ways that are developmentally appropriate. In this, educational leaders will be called upon to guide how much and what kinds of access students should be allowed at various stages of their development. This becomes ever-more complex in light of debates from all angles including the adverse effects of screen time on children and adolescents (Hale & Guan, 2015), mounting concerns of internet addictions (Mihajlov & Vejmelka, 2017), all the while riding the tides of one-to-one laptop initiatives that generally yield positive findings (Zheng, Warschauer, Lin, & Chang, 2016).

Adding to the complexity, are concerns of disinformation and the difficulty of discerning what is real from what is fake. A ground-breaking study from Stanford University in 2016 revealed that less than 20% of middle school students could distinguish an advertisement from a real news story. As stated by the authors, “Our first round of piloting shocked us into reality. Many assume that because young people are fluent in social media they are equally savvy about what they find there. Our work shows the opposite” (Wineburg, McGrew, Breakstone, & Ortega, 2016, p. 7). Schools have a critical role to play in managing these challenges and we need educational leaders who will be central in guiding a new generation of digital citizens.

3. Cybersecurity Careers

Globally, we face an immense shortage of cybersecurity professionals. According to Steve Morgan of Cybersecurity Ventures (2019), “There will be 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs globally by 2021.” Primary and secondary schools all around the world need to become an integral part of building this urgently needed cybersecurity workforce. While this may involve teaching students to write computer code and offering summer camps geared toward cybersecurity awareness and education, one critical step forward in resolving this impasse is for educational leaders to be aware of this global crisis and the vital career opportunity it presents for students. Moreover, there are particularly urgent calls for women and other underrepresented groups to join this workforce, as diverse perspectives will be critical in resolving complex and multifaceted cybersecurity challenges.


In offering this call to international educational leaders, I recognize that a first crucial step forward is to become aware of the realities surrounding today’s cybersecurity threats. I also know as a relative newcomer to the realm of cybersecurity education that taking this initial step forward can be dauting. I still recall the visceral mixture of wonder and unease that loomed so large when I first encountered the field of cybersecurity. To call it eye-opening would be an understatement as I began to recognize just how vulnerable and exposed we are to the many different forms of potential cyber-attacks. I offer this call not only to be alarmist, but also to empower educational leaders to come together and take proactive steps forward in meeting this global demand. I hope you will join me in this urgent endeavor.


Wilkes University is a private, independent institution of higher education dedicated to academic and intellectual excellence through mentoring in the liberal arts, sciences and professional programs. Founded in 1933 in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Wilkes is on a mission to create one of the nation’s finest doctoral universities, offering all of the programs, activities and opportunities of a large university in the intimate, caring and mentoring environment of a small college, open to all who show potential. The Economist named Wilkes 25th in the nation for the value of its education for graduates.

Wilkes University’s Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership attracts students from around the globe and is designed specifically for international teachers, principals and school heads who want to improve education for culturally diverse students. The concentration in Instructional Leadership is built around educational theory, research, technology and leadership practice to help educators advance in the international environment.

The program’s convenient low-residency format blends online learning with annual, four-day face-to-face class sessions in Dubai or Panama City, allowing students to collaborate with peers and professors in person and online. Students benefit from mentoring and personal attention from experienced international school educators and university faculty who can apply concepts to a global education setting.

In addition to the doctor of education, Wilkes offers more than two dozen master’s degrees and certificate programs to education professionals around the world, and more than 40 bachelor’s-degree programs. The campus is located in northeast Pennsylvania, approximately two hours from Philadelphia and New York City.

To learn more about Wilkes University’s Ed.D., visit or contact Nicholas Tomaskovic at



CBS News (2018a). “K-9 officer helps California police nab student accused of changing grades.” Available at:

CBS News (2018b). “School district pays $10,000 bitcoin ransom after cyberattack.” CBS News. Available at:

Hale, L., & Guan, S. (2015). Screen time and sleep among school-aged children and adolescents: a systematic literature review. Sleep medicine reviews, 21, 50-58.

Levin, D. (2017). “How should we address the cybersecurity threats facing K-12 schools?” The K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center. Available at:

Levin, D. (2019). “The State of K-12 Cybersecurity: 2018 Year in Review.” Arlington, VA: Ed Tech Strategies, LLC/The K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center. Available at:

Mihajlov, M., & Vejmelka, L. (2017). Internet addiction: A review of the first twenty years. Psychiatria Danubina, 29(3), 260-272.

Morgan, S. (2019). “2019 Cybersecurity Almanac: 100 Facts, Figures, Predictions and Statistics.” Cybersecurity Ventures. Available at:

Murphy, J. (2018). “Data breach puts 360,000 Pa. teachers, education department staffers’ personal information at risk.” PA Penn Live. Available at:

Wineburg, S., McGrew, S., Breakstone, J., & Ortega, T. (2016). Evaluating information: The cornerstone of civic online reasoning. Stanford Digital Repository. Retrieved January, 8, 2018.

Zheng, B., Warschauer, M., Lin, C. H., & Chang, C. (2016). Learning in one-to-one laptop environments: A meta-analysis and research synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 86(4), 1052-1084.

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