In one of my community messages last month, I spoke about how technology has advanced rapidly over the last few decades, and how the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) will continue to challenge our understanding of what it means to be human. This piece titled “The Tip of the AI Iceberg” had as its fundamental premise the concept of the exponential. Exponential advances in technology are hard to comprehend, particularly when our world view has been traditionally linear. We are accustomed to thinking in terms of steady, incremental progress, but technology is now advancing at an exponential rate, which dictates a need for us to become more comfortable with uncertainty, navigating a dynamic and changing world in which the only certainty is change.
It is an incredibly exciting and terrifying time to be alive, for we now find ourselves at a crossroads where the choices that are made today will determine the trajectory of our future. The world is facing unprecedented and intractable challenges, from economic inequality, environmental degradation, and social injustices. Yet, amidst these challenges, we also see a world of opportunity – a world where technology and innovation offer new solutions to age-old problems, and where creative collaboration and strategic thinking can help us build a better future.
At Westbourne, we understand that we have a responsibility to help our students navigate this rapidly changing landscape. We must help them understand emerging technologies, while also teaching them critical thinking skills and assisting in the development of a finely tuned “bullsh*t detector” as social critic and commentator Howard Rheingold described it almost twenty years ago. This has synergies with our teaching and learning philosophy titled Inspire, that dictates that our young people are not just passive consumers of technology but rather the creators of tomorrow’s technology, today. And whilst AI is the hot conversation right now, other technologies that are becoming increasingly commonplace include robotics, autonomous vehicles, facial recognition, and brain machine interfaces. With 6G technology on the horizon, technology that will be 100 times the capacity of 5G, the rise of personal AI assistants will become common place, augmenting our capabilities, and assisting us to go about our lives in a more effective and efficient way. Our young people need to be at the forefront of this. Those who can use these technologies to their advantage, will be at a distinct advantage over those who cannot.
At the same time, we must also be mindful of the potential risks and challenges that come with new technologies. This is the other side of the digital coin and emerging technology landscape. I recently attended the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) Australian Governance Summit and the main topic of conversation for all industries was the growing threat of cyber security. According to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC), the number of data breaches reported in Australia has been steadily increasing. In the July to December 2022 reporting period alone, the OAIC received 497 notifications of data breaches, compared with 393 in the January to June 2022 period – a 26% increase. With the Optus and Medibank incidents occupying much of the media attention, as of today, the OAIC are now reporting a cyber incident every 7 minutes, with the ACSC reporting 185 cyber crimes per day in Australia. What is clear is that if you or your workplace has not yet been a victim to a cyber incident then it is probably a matter of when, not if. So, I believe that it is vitally important to be aware of the steps that you and your family can take to minimize your exposure and risk.
At Westbourne, we take the safety and security of our staff and students seriously. We were fortunate to engage our community in the creation of a digital strategy in the early stages of 2021; a strategy which aimed to position us at the forefront of digital in all its forms over the next three years. This has included significant infrastructure upgrades, business continuity planning, scenario planning, disaster recovery policies and procedures, data and records management, and the uplift in our cyber security posture and maturity. This is also inclusive of digital wellbeing, teaching and learning practices and platforms, and the provision of devices that will enable our young people to engage in contemporary learning with contemporary software. All this continues to be a work in progress despite the incredible progress we have made in such a short period of time.
Throughout 2022 and continuing this year we have implemented training programs and measures to ensure that our staff are equipped with the tools to identify and respond to cyber threats. They receive ongoing professional development to ensure they stay up to date with the latest trends in cyber security and are equipped with the skills to be able to talk to students about online safety and the responsible and ethical use of technology. We continue to mitigate any risk of a serious cyber security incident by implementing a range of measures, with one example being multi-factor authentication (MFA) – currently for staff only, but most likely for students as well in the coming months.
We also recognize the importance of educating our students about cyber security. We have integrated digital citizenship, cyber awareness, and online safety lessons into our curriculum to ensure that our students are aware of potential risks and know how to protect themselves online. Our first parent session of 2023 was titled ‘Plan, Prevent, and Protect” and was attended by over 100 parents. Other parent sessions this year that will be communicated shortly include, Safety on the Socials, Gaming and Your Family, and Digital Balance and Wellbeing.
There are also many resources available at the Australian Cyber Security Centre – https://www.cyber.gov.au/ – which can be useful to use as a stimulus for discussion in your home. Together, I am certain we can create an awareness of the need for a safe and secure online and digital environment for all members of our school community.
A brave new world.