Cryptocurrencies have been in the news lately. But perhaps a bigger story lies in the blockchain technology that powers them. Globally, as governments and banks grapple with the popularity of digital currencies, the potential of blockchain technology to transform other key industries is rarely considered. Education is one of those areas that this technology could truly revolutionize.
The pandemic has affected educational institutions around the world. While we hope campuses are teeming with a physical presence of students and teachers, the widespread use of digital technology in education is here to stay. Through blended learning and flipped classrooms, students are no longer constrained by the educational resources and learning opportunities available within the physical boundaries of institutions. The new world is here to be swept away – where knowledge from across the country and even the world can be put to good use.
With the National Education Policy 2020 (NEP-2020), India has set itself an ambitious agenda. The objective is to achieve a gross enrollment ratio (GER) of 100% in school education by 2030 and to double it in higher education, reaching 50% by 2035. It is expected that our students will benefit from greater flexibility and choice of subjects, without a rigid separation between disciplines. We need to invest in digital education and related technologies to achieve these ambitious goals and provide holistic and multidisciplinary education.
There are several aspects to creating a robust digital education ecosystem (DEE): content development, teaching, assessments, grading, attendance registration, achievements, certificates, degrees and diplomas. Stakeholders such as educational institutions, potential employers, mentors and certification agencies can be included in an EED. With greater digitization, there is an inherent need for more secure and foolproof systems that can track students’ academic activities and deliver required information to all stakeholders. Blockchain may emerge as a viable solution to manage such an integrated DEE.
Blockchain gets its name from databases or digital registers where information is stored in the form of “blocks” which are coupled together to form “chains”. An exact copy of the blockchain is available for each of the multiple computers or users that are brought together in a network and any new information added or changed through a new block must be verified and approved by more than half of the total users. With the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT), the availability of inexpensive IT and Internet services, blockchain technology can now facilitate innovations in a range of processes and applications requiring management, storage, retrieval and security of large and important information. These include the management of information relating to financial transactions (as in the case of cryptocurrencies), electoral voting, medical records, university courses, property records and professional testimony. A decentralized framework makes the system and the information stored therein fraud-proof, transparent and credible.
Blockchain technology could provide an excellent framework for managing student records, ranging from daily information such as homework, attendance, and extracurricular activities, to information about the degrees and colleges they attended. It would be a secure system that would ensure that school records remain immutable. These could be used by future educational institutions and recruiters, who may have access to relevant records. Likewise, teacher information can be stored securely, which would allow an educational institution to monitor teacher performance. The blockchain ledger would provide a time-stamped and tamper-proof record of faculty performance – attendance, student ratings, number of students opting for their electives, research results, and publications. These files could be linked to teacher evaluation systems, thus ensuring greater accountability.
NEP-2020 calls for the introduction of multidisciplinary education where students could choose their own combination of major and minor subjects as well as flexibility in course length. Here too, the blockchain can help to implement such a multiple input and output structure. In addition, students can be assured of the quality of teachers and educators. This could allow educators to display their certified proficiency badges, allowing students to choose courses with full knowledge of the facts. Meanwhile, students too, especially those in higher education and research, can adopt skill badges to indicate their skills. This would allow faculty to identify the right students for projects. A blockchain-based ecosystem could also be used to design a scholarship system that inspires students to maintain consistency and achieve academic excellence.
Adopting blockchain in education could help improve the efficiency of the educational ecosystem and optimize the use of human and physical resources. In doing so, issues such as data privacy, cost, scalability, and integration with existing systems will need to be addressed. It is worth every penny as it would help usher in an education system that is better equipped to handle a higher number of enrollments while being secure, transparent, collaborative, creative and ready for the future.
Rustagi, civil servant, holds a doctorate from HEC Paris, France. Chakraborti is the Dean of the School of Engineering and Technology at BML Munjal University. Views are personal