This is part of a series being penned by an eminent educationist Arun Kapur.

Throughout the series of these articles I have been exploring emerging technologies that has a lot of potential for good & bad and the imperative to have persons of substance at the helm. Today we look at one such technology that first burst into the scene during the 2008 financial crisis and has since been mired in potential and controversy. The number of scams that have been operated under the pretest of this technology, causing thousands, if not millions, to lose their life savings should serve as an excellent reminder that we need person of substance - people who do the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do - to lead through these technological revolutions.

Blockchain is a decentralized technology that enables its users to store information and make it available in a transparent fashion. This makes it a highly secure and reliable form of data storage. This technology is also one of the fastest-growing technologies today. It has the potential to revolutionize many industries by increasing efficiencies, reducing costs, and bringing more transparency to businesses. Blockchain has the potential to completely transform the ways businesses operate. It has the potential to eliminate paper-based workflows and usher in a new era of transparency, traceability, and security. This, in turn, could herald major changes in the way we do business—not just in the financial markets but in society‌. Governments around the world have been paying attention to the potential of this technology. In 2019, we launched a Blockchain digital credential initiative in Jhalawar school in a remote part of Rajasthan in India. The idea was to see how Blockchain credentials could facilitate learner ownership of their achievements. After all, it is the learner who is putting in the effort and has the most need to effectively share these credentials with their universities and employers yet somehow it is solely controlled by institutions. We found ‌ credentials issued on the Blockchain were secure, instantly shareable, instantly verifiable, and completely owned by the learner. This meant that a student in remote Rajasthan, if she wished, could share her credential from her wallet to a university in Canada or Australia. The recipient will be able to verify the authenticity of the credential in a matter of seconds. All this with no additional cost to the student, coupled with considerable time efficiencies.

This is a paradigm shift in the way people interact with the credentials they have earned. The Blockchain opens up new worlds of engagement and collaboration between learners, educators, employers and any other stakeholder that may emerge during the learner's journey. Smart contracts, immutable ledgers, and open-source tools give us new opportunities to create a learner's passport to learning. They also give us an extraordinary opportunity to dramatically alter the paradigm through which we educate and employ the next generation.

The skills marketplace is evolving. As we have seen in the earlier articles, with the rise of the other emerging technologies like AI & Robotics, the skills our young learners are going to need will be significantly different from what we are currently helping them inculcate. And the pandemic has acted as a catalyst in ushering in new ways of working. There are many more opportunities to connect with people and projects in the real world than we had in the past. Blockchain is one among many new ways to find the wherewithal to get the job done. More importantly, a Blockchain-based credentialing system allows the learner to retain control of that credential, and gives the employer, assessor or other stakeholder confidence that it is real and which they can trust. It could also be richer and provide a more holistic context of a student or candidate's experiences than a degree certificate or transcript.

Blockchain could be a transformative technology in education among other sectors. The decentralized, cryptographic nature of this database makes it possible to share and store data without the need for a centralized authority to validate that information. Some advantages of using blockchain in education include:

  • Increased transparency between institutions as students can track their academic history on a global scale.
  • Students can keep up with all the courses they are enrolled in and manage their e-learning portfolios.
  • Save considerable time and resources by not having to go back and forth between institutions, employers and other stakeholders to have their credentials attested.

On the other hand, there are also some disadvantages of using blockchain in education including:

  • Institutions may see additional expenses related to using blockchain because it will require new infrastructure and personnel.
  • While higher levels of transparency make it easier for students to identify institutions providing quality services, this same level of transparency could lead to increased fraud within the educational sector if students don’t know how to properly vet an institution before enrolling them in their program.
  • People could be put off by the significant learning curve involved.

A person’s typical resume contains a lot of additional information that could be relevant to employers in addition to their qualifications. We’re talking about foreign language skills, technical knowledge or specific abilities not necessarily related to a person’s profession. What if the entire workforce was using such a ‘passport’ that provides a rich and holistic picture of an individual's career? And what if its features were combined with a Blockchain system? Let’s imagine a world where your employer would not just look at your degrees, but could quickly access your entire Blockchain career passport. It would be possible to let employers make a more informed decision about the best job applicants for them. The option for candidates to use their own data for a Blockchain passport would be beneficial for them as well to find the right career that matches their skill sets and passion. Combine this with the data-crunching capabilities of new AI systems and we have never seen platforms that can help an individual identify gaps in their career passport which they need to upskill to get a job they so desire. This could be a win-win as the candidate gets the job they want and the employer can rest assured that the candidate is a good fit.

One of the biggest risks is that blockchain technology is still in its early stages. There are a lot of questions to be answered before it can become the universal platform for doing business or even for day-to-day transactions, especially in the finance sector. Another risk is that because blockchain technology is still new it is not widely adopted yet. Depending on your industry, this could mean difficulty finding users or partners and an inability to achieve scale quickly enough. The other downside of some blockchains is that they are very resource-intensive. This means that some industries might need to invest significant time and money into developing the necessary infrastructure for their use of blockchain in order to reap the benefits. But more importantly, we would need leaders to come up with creative solutions to minimise the energy intensiveness and the impact on the environment.

Blockchain technology has been a recent topic of discussion. What will the future of this technology hold? In the current crisis in Ukraine, millions of people are displaced with almost nothing to prove about their past qualifications and experiences. A Blockchain system would have been of immense value there as people try and rebuild their lives. We also should be cautious of being a hammer looking for a nail. When we used blockchain to issue credentials to our students we knew exactly what we wanted - student ownership of their learning credentials. It was unfair that students worked so hard and each time they wanted to share these credentials they had to come back to the school to get them attested or verified. On the other extreme, we hear stories of thousands of people losing their money because they invested in quick rich blockchain-based digital currency endeavours that were led by unscrupulous individuals. The point is, that we need Persons of Substance to lead us through such transformational change.

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Arun Kapur is an educator with over four decades of experience in the private and public education spheres. Arun currently leads initiatives at the Royal Academy, Pangbisa, Bhutan as its Director.

To read the previous article, click here!