The use of blockchain technology has been broadly touted to be applied across a wide variety of day to day activities, from financial services to transportation to health and many more. The question is – can this be applied to educational systems and if yes what changes could it potentially bring about?
Whilst there are only a very, very few organisations currently utilising blockchain for educational purposes, educators, students and professionals are aware that education is no longer delivered in a brick and mortar environment.
We have moved from the concept of having a period in our lives dedicated to learning and then to working. We now live in the age of continuous life-long learning, achieved through online courses, conferences & seminars as well as workshops and boot camps.
This means that at home we have multiple certificates of attendance or qualifications being given to us by different institutions. These may be easily lost and obtaining a new copy is not as simple as it may seem, especially if such institution no longer exists.
One of the advantages which blockchain technology can bring about is the actual storage of one’s educational records. Degree & course certificates can be secured and verified and kept by the user. The user shall be in control of his documentation without the need of knocking on the institution’s door for such paperwork.
A practical use of such a system would apply to those individuals who have had to flee their country due to a natural disaster or war. Certifications and records kept within the blockchain would still be available and verifiable and institutions (if they still exist) who have issued such certificates would not need to dedicate resources to confirm the validity of such certificate to third parties, since such verification is available on the blockchain.
Within the educational system itself, especially outside of Malta where campuses and student numbers exceed ours, students get in touch with a multitude of different persons within different structures of the same educational institution. Such students would need to identify themselves with each party, with each containing information in isolated silos. This brings about a large cyber security risk for the organisation which would require significant investment in keeping information safe and secure.
Through the use of a blockchain platform, such information can be shared safely amongst those parties who really need such information. The individual is in command to whom he/she shares such information with and the educational organisation would be able to alleviate some of its costs in relation to data breaches, training, access rights and other security measures.
An issue faced at EU level is the ability to transfer course credits from one university to another. Credit transfer very much depends on the co-operation agreements entered into between the two learning institutions and at times even such arrangements are not recognised by the institutions themselves. Through the use of smart contracts, such discrepancies can be avoided since once the conditions as coded within the smart contract are fulfilled then course credits would be automatically transferred.
If you recall we earlier mentioned that mankind has moved towards continuous learning. Through the use of blockchain technology, the person undertaking a course, seminar or learning experience can store evidence of their training being it formal or informal and be in a position to share it with the click of a button. At the same time, such training can be verified instantaneously. The fact that such training is recorded and verifiable on the blockchain will allow employers to spend less time verifying CVs.
Blockchain technology and more specifically cryptocurrencies could assist students in paying for their education, which would eliminate barriers for those students who face difficulty in opening a bank account due to their country of origin. This does not mean that anti-money laundering procedures are not to be adhered to, but it could potentially provide a means of alleviating concerns for genuine individuals who seek higher education outside of their country. Governments can issue scholarships which can be used at universities which monies could be released either to the student or university itself based on predefined criteria through the use of smart contracts.
We have spoken a lot about those who are learning – however what about educators?
Blockchain technology can be applied to allow educators to publish their research on an open platform which can keep track of how many times it has been used. Moreover, educators can have access to information and research produced by other colleagues. Potentially teachers can be rewarded on the basis of actual use of training or research materials provided by creating a specific coin for such purposes which coins could be attributed a monetary value.
Platforms are being created to provide educators with a flexible educational hub. Through such hubs, educators can directly connect, plan and confirm courses. On the other hand, students will be in a position to place requests for specific courses with teachers directly responding to such requests. This can be anything from a short introductory course or a complete program of studies.
Another matter which is close at heart to educators is Continuous Professional Development (CPD). CPD is often fragmented and not adequately recorded. If a blockchain based system would be established, which system would collate information on and record attendance to CPD courses and other forms of learning, teachers and other professionals could get guidance from trusted providers and thus have a further incentive to enhance not only the quantity of their CPD hours but also the quality.
Blockchain technology clearly can be applied across the whole education system. In education, however, students and educators need to go beyond the trust that is provided by the technology since reputation of the school, college or university will still play an important part.
However, blockchain technology does have its areas of concern. From GDPR to loss of cryptocurrencies and money laundering issues. The biggest obstacle to date is the implementation of the technology and its scalability. The technology should not be used in isolation. A cultural shift is required in order to fully embrace the potential of the technology which benefits the learning community at large.
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About the Author
This article has been authored by Nicholas Warren – Senior Manager Financial Services and Blockchain. He holds over 16 years of consultancy experience to international clients on the various possibilities presented by Malta as a Financial Services Centre.
For more information please do not hesitate to contact our Fintech Team at [email protected] or +356 2557 2557.