In Israel, teaching kids cyberskills becomes a national mission


In some Israeli schools, fourth-graders learn computer programming while gifted 10th-graders take after-school classes in encryption tactics, coding and how to stop malicious hacking. The country even has two new kindergartens that teach computer skills and robotics. The training programs – something of a boot camp for cyber defense – are part of Israel’s quest to become a world leader in cybersecurity and cyber technology by placing its hopes in the country’s youth. To that end, Israel announced this week the establishment of a national center for cyber education, meant to increase the talent pool for military intelligence units and prepare children for eventual careers in defense agencies, the high-tech industry and academia.

“You students need to strengthen us with your curiosity,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told an Israeli cyber technologies expo, sitting next to high school students in a training program overseen by the defense establishment. “Your years in the security services will be golden years for the security of the nation.”

Israel has long branded itself the “Cyber Nation” but authorities say they have been facing a shortage of cyber experts to keep up with the country’s defense needs and keep its cybersecurity industry booming. To build up a wellspring of talent, Israel is starting young: teaching children the basic building blocks of the web.

“In the first grade, they learn the letters, then how to read and how to write. We are building the next level of knowledge – how to code,” said Sagy Bar of the Rashi Foundation, a philanthropic group running the cyber education center as a joint venture with Israel’s defense establishment and academic institutions.

The center will also oversee educational programs launched in recent years, including the Education Ministry’s Gvahim pilot program that introduced computer and robotic classes to the fourth-grade curriculum in 70 schools, and the after-school Magshimim program, which trains talented high-schoolers from underprivileged areas in college-level cyber skills. Drawing youth into the highly technical field of cybersecurity is not a novelty, and the United States and Britain have implemented similar training programs. The National Security Agency, America’s global surveillance and intelligence agency, co-sponsors free cybersecurity summer camps throughout the U.S. for students and teachers from kindergarten through high school. The GenCyber program seeks to improve cybersecurity teaching in schools as early as kindergarten.

GCHQ, the U.K.’s powerful signals intelligence agency, has a host of youth outreach initiatives, including an annual competition for amateurs and youngsters at dramatic venues such as Winston Churchill’s World War II-era bunker under central London.