By Enrique Opi Tufet, Vice President Corporate Office at World Mobile
In April this year, IOHK, the company behind the Cardano cryptocurrency, announced a pioneering partnership with the Ethiopian government. As part of the agreement, authorities will implement a blockchain-based national student, teacher ID, and attainment recording system to digitally verify grades, remotely monitor school performance, and boost nationwide education and employment.
The plan will see five million students receive Cardano blockchain-based IDs, allowing authorities to digitally verify grades and track every student’s academic performance. It will involve approximately 3,500 schools and 750,000 teachers.
Opening access to education in Africa has been attempted over and over, and only incremental progress has been made until now. It’s why IOHK’s, as well as other blockchain-based initiatives, have generated little excitement outside of the crypto sphere. But these initiatives will finally empower the citizens of developing nations—the distinction between citizens and the nations themselves is crucial, considering much of the Western aid dumped at many of these countries has ended in the hands of corrupt bureaucrats. Blockchain and online learning working together in unison possess a significant capacity to not only transform the region at hand but to serve as the first domino towards mass adoption.
The pandemic has had a profound effect on the ascension of digital learning, having forced governments around the world to close schools and scramble for quick solutions. Partly because of this, remote learning has increasingly become the norm, opening the door for students of all ages to take online courses, either to build a degree or for enrichment. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) have enjoyed great popularity with platforms such as Coursera, edX, and FutureLearn gaining over 60 million new users in 2020.
But for prospective students from the underserved regions of the world, it’s not quite as straightforward.
Ethiopia’s precarious situation essentially mirrors much of underdeveloped Africa. For instance, most information is still recorded on paper, so the Ministry of Education has a finite amount of serviceable data at its disposal. Students encounter difficulties accessing their academic records, and there remains a dire issue with regards to fake certifications, leading to students struggling to prove their academic credibility.
In Ethiopia, the internet reaches only 20.6 percent of the population, and even the people it does reach experience regular local internet shutdowns due to severe social unrest. Students operating online are also expected to maintain an updated learning profile, which has proved an obstacle, whether it’s for taking one course or twelve.
How can blockchain open the door?
UNESCO defines open educational resources as teaching/learning materials that are in the public domain or openly licensed and allow users to reuse, adapt, and redistribute at no cost.
One way to facilitate this is to maintain a blockchain-based framework. Blockchain and digital identity are starting to prove essential in well-functioning labor markets as a tool to establish competence in a credible way. To solve the issue of low connectivity, high school graduates will receive cards with near-field communication (NFC) chips that will contain their educational credentials. This ensures data will be available even if a student does not have access to connect to the system.
The blockchain also could certify specific skills or abilities. Sometimes students possess a very well-developed specific skill. Maybe they write exceptional poetry by the ninth grade, are math geniuses by age eight, or can carve wood like a pro before graduating high school. Teachers or other certified people who witness this could acknowledge this skill by awarding special badges that would also be stored in each student’s account on the blockchain.
If a student transfers to another school, there would be no need for transcripts, as the information is already on the region’s blockchain and the new school would just continue adding to the student’s account. If the student moves to another state, the information could be easily transferred to the receiving state’s blockchain. A smart contract on the receiving blockchain could then compare course contents and alert if specific areas need attention.
Just the first step
Innovation and the adoption of groundbreaking technology doesn’t usually happen in developing countries before it happens in Tel Aviv, New York, or San Francisco. From the industrial revolution to the advent of televisions, computers, and later the iPhone, transformative innovation trickled into the rest of the world after it began in the West. In fact, many parts of the developed world still don’t have access to these technologies, which makes the need for blockchain solutions all the more crucial. In the case of blockchain, the experimenting with digital identity solutions and public distributed ledgers will begin in the developing world, while the rest of us watch closely.
Blockchain-based IDs to track educational records, for example, were born out of necessity in developing regions, where a lack of identification leaves millions of human beings without access to basic resources, let alone proper education. But it also stands to benefit students around the world, as there is more openness to online learning and MOOC certification.
The digitization of learning has been an education-sector slogan for so long that it has become a buzzword, and while progress has been made in improving online learning, blockchain transforms it entirely. Blockchain organizes data while maintaining people’s privacy and this can serve as a central component for ensuring secure and credible academic records, paving the way to a promising post-academic future. Skeptical legacy institutions in developed countries skeptical of the technology will be forced to deny its value if the blockchain experiment in Africa works.
About the Author
Enrique acts as Vice President Corporate Office for World Mobile. Before that he managed Training Programmes for the EU as Director of Fundación ONCE and a University in Barcelona. Previously, he acted as Vice President and General Counsel of EPSON Europe. Enrique also led the European communications of two leading firms Weber Shandwick and Ogilvy PR.
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.