The information age has brought with it innovative ways of usage of information or data. An outstanding element of the information revolution is the decentralization of information it entails. One of the applications of such decentralization of information is Blockchain.
The term has gained currency due to its application in the cryptocurrencies, however, the blockchain, which basically are distributed ledgers, has the potential to popularize highly efficient practices in the fields like education and healthcare.
Blockchains consist of electronic ledgers, what is defining about them is that they are immutable and decentralized i.e. they can’t be changed at will by users.
Electronic ledgers are widespread, they have replaced manual bookkeeping almost everywhere. However, the data typically centralized in across systems and is therefore prone to summary loss or theft or manipulation. To minimize the risks, the data must be stored in multiple places provided the authenticity is not compromised in this systematic distribution of data. That’s how we essentially get a distributed ledgers or a Blockchain.
The Blockchain ensures the integrity of the data by having several digital nodes. Each node in the system has access to the original ledger and constantly verifies the original and the newly added information. The multiplicity of such nodes marginalizes the risk of data corruption by one or many nodes.
Now, integral ledgers are useful by themselves, but blockchains have evolved other mechanisms that add to their value, namely, reward circuits and smart contracts.
Blockchains in Education
We will try to analyze, at a basic level, how Blockchain-based ledger technologies find application in education
Records of the students—An educational institution deals with a mountain of academic transcripts. The retrieval of student information and its reproduction has no place for error. The process has become electronic but still it requires manual intervention, hence demands a lot of time and effort.
Movement of a student from one school to another, for instance, requires him or her to enroll or opt for courses previously studied in the new school. Now, we do have standardized textbooks in India class 9 onwards, but below that level, choice is rather arbitrary. Now, the Blockchain will ensure that in such a case the minute details of the course and content can be retrieved and matched facilitating the choice of a consistent school or course. It can be argued that the possibility of finding a perfect match depends on the availability more than it depends on the data. It is true, but we are talking here about the potential of the Blockchain and not arguing that it is a solution to all anomalies in education.
And this is just a specific example, there are lots of records pertaining to a student. With the NEP in the offing and its comprehensive report card recommendation, the need for accurate and integral data reflecting students’ abilities will become an acknowledged need. Similarly, other areas will benefit greatly from a convenient and reliable record-keeping and retrieval technology.
Comprehensive and accurate resume—every student is a potential employee. The resume contains relevant information but it is a broad stroke work. The finest details which include specific abilities and experiences that are generally omitted for the sake of brevity or general relevance. Now suppose, there comes a prospect that requires a specific skill-set for consideration which the candidate has not kept it in the resume, in this event, the data could be retrieved from the decentralized ledger.
The certification authorities can use the undoctored and systematically verified data available on the candidate through Blockchain to issue a certificate of ability. In this way, the Blockchain can help immensely in time-bound resource mobilization.
Solving the file-Storage space problem—Institutions, especially higher education institutions, need to store information on students and teachers besides curricula and other records. This obviously requires space and the risk of data getting compromised is ever-present. Cloud storage is an option, however, all institutions, especially private ones, do not have the resources to mobilize humungous cloud space. Now we see on the horizon Blockchain-based cloud storage which can solve the problem of unaffordability of storing data indefinitely.
Conducting online courses—in the introduction we mentioned ‘smart-contracts’ as a featured capability of Blockchain systems. The smart-contracts enables programming of entire courses which enables automation of their execution. Let’s say, a teacher gives a task the completion of which could be verified through a smart-contract mechanism and applicable costs could be paid through crypto tokens, how easy it would be for the teacher to manage giving credits or other sorts of certification.
Paper and research publication—Academicians, researchers, and undergraduates add to the body of knowledge by presenting research papers publication of which is a demanding process. Many worthy papers have historically been rejected by established journals. The legendary rejection record of journals has entered folklore with some notable “rejected” research papers ending up winning Nobel years later. Publishing can become substantially easier for researchers with the Blockchain systems and additionally, intellectual property can be safeguarded effectively through them. Blockchain publishing can also make piracy really difficult.
Economy—the automation that the Blockchain can bring into the management of institutions can bring the costs down significantly. The labor and cost-intensive processes can readily be automated through Blockchain applications. The lowered costs of institution management can translate into lowered costs of education for students.
The in-built reward mechanisms
Blockchain processes incentivizes the individual computer nodes by rewarding them for constantly verifying the integrity of the data stored in the ledgers and warding off threats of compromise. The rewards are meted out through digital tokens, famously the bitcoin and ether. The system has a name, cryptocurrency mining. There is hardly any reason for this application to not enter the education arena. The spectrum of possibilities is truly impressive.
On –ground Application
Let’s present a rudimentary model of application for a school. A school will register and a Blockchain account gets made for every student wherein a detailed academic record will be maintained. The record here can be very comprehensive as the confinements of storage space and difficulties of maintaining integrity are almost non-existent. All class test records, papers, and disciplinary actions, PTM details etc. can be stored and retrieved easily. The levels of transparency and accountability this can bring into school systems is not hard to imagine. The process of assessments can be automated and made cost and time-efficient with the smart-contract system of Blockchain enabling digital conducting of exams and even evaluation. One can imagine the time saved for teachers, not to mention the objectivity it supplies.
The blockchains have demonstrated their potential in evolving the economic systems already. Now, their potential of remarkable features like smart-contracts and distributed ledgers are being assessed and explored as we see the adoption of digital technology entering the educational space. 2020 has challenged as no other year in recent history and has brought vulnerabilities of enduring systems to the fore. There is no denying that we are talking about highly dynamic systems that constitute education but at the same time, the inevitability of grand entry of technology in education across the board is increasingly becoming obvious.
Founder & Consultant - School Serv
Vinod Kakumanu heads a team of school services professionals and is an independent commentator on Indian school education scenario. Vinod has assisted school promoters establish 35+ schools besides providing ancillary services to over 1000 schools across India. He envisions a future where quality education is made available to every child of the country. The focus he places on the quality of the deliverables and customer satisfaction has made him renowned in the field of K-12 school education.