All eyes were on Stanford last month, as President Obama & Co were on hand to kick off the White House Summit on Cybersecurity and Consumer Protection in February. And while it was an admirable show of interest, those in the trenches of cybersecurity know that it’ll take a lot more than a singular meeting of the minds to remedy the massive tech learning gap apparent in the U.S. education system.

Unfortunately, the gap is no longer just an educational threat: It’s a threat to national security. As the possibility for widespread and crushing cyberattacks looms like a battle-hungry general, the U.S. simply doesn’t have the human capital necessary to fend off the effects of a pandemic information breach.

Therein Lies the Paradox

No one is disputing the fact that the U.S. is a military, financial, and tech powerhouse. But consider this: According to a white paper by Accenture, only 13 percent of Americans (a paltry 234K) graduate college with a STEM-related degree. Contrast that to China, where 40 percent, or 2.8 million, receive degrees in Science, Tech, Engineering, or Math. Simply put, their army is bigger than ours.

And therein lies the paradox for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security: While miles ahead in intelligence and brute force, the entire country would be wholly unprepared if an attack wasn’t on the ground, but in the cloud.

A report spearheaded by Condoleezza Rice for the Council on Foreign Relations identifies five key areas in which a lack of STEM preparedness would result in the inability to neither lead nor keep pace with the rest of the world, particularly in the realm of national security: economic growth and competitiveness, physical safety, intellectual property, U.S. global awareness, and U.S. unity and cohesion.

eLearning Steps In

Promoting more four-year STEM degrees could help reduce the security risk the U.S. is currently facing, but there’s a problem: Cybersecurity risks change so rapidly that graduates might be woefully unprepared for current threats upon graduation.

“The spiraling nature of tech necessitates private programs to allow institutions to keep up with new threats,” says Jack Makhlouf, Chief Learning Architect for eLearning Mind. “University and college systems alone can’t keep pace.” Instructional designer Eunjae Kim agrees. “University degrees operate on theory-based learning,” she says. “For the U.S. to compete, graduates need more hands-on practice.”

That’s where eLearning steps in: A pilot program introduced at the annual CISSE Cybersecurity Education Summit proposes hands-on, real-life STEM-based tech training to help prep K-12 learners for learning and careers in cybersecurity. It’s a small effort now, but a promising development in the war on cyber threats and an increasing need for intervention.

Using K-12 learners as the insurance against threats to homeland security? It’s fairly revolutionary; and exactly the kind of solution that keeps the United States moving in the right direction.