Like finance and logistics, blockchain can make an important impact on education
By Srinivas Kamadi
Widespread digital transformation has changed the way organisations function across industries, with research being conducted into methods to integrate contemporary technology into traditional sectors. Some of the most influential technologies that have emerged have centred on artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and automation. Blockchain is now a worthy contender to these technologies, possessing the potential to revolutionise multiple sectors. While its effects have already been discussed in major areas such as finance, cybersecurity and logistics, an area that is of equal importance is the effect blockchain can have on the education space.
As talent acquisition becomes an important concern across industries, universities are tasked with providing their students the best possible chance to secure employment opportunities. Within this framework, a compilation of the capabilities students possess is of essence, creating a direct link between the universities and their potential employers. The process of recording these capabilities, however, suffers from two major problems.
Firstly, these records do not contain a holistic view of the knowledge the student possesses as the only aspects being evaluated are purely academic, leaving no scope for extracurricular activities that the student may undertake voluntarily. The same is true of working professionals, where the only records present are of the professional targets achieved, ignoring after-work knowledge that the employee may acquire during his/her term of employment. The second problem is that the information that is recorded is mostly in the form of physical assets, such as paper documents, which can be easily misplaced. An additional problematic aspect of this reliance on physical records is that the information tends to exist in scattered silos, leaving no possibility of integrating the information in any other manner but manually.
Information security is the most contemporary issue that is plaguing the education space. Most countries suffer from the menace of fake certificates that are readily available—as cheap as Rs 2,000—and are used by candidates to enhance their prospects of employment. As a result, organisations are faced with a simultaneous talent crunch and excess of applicants as they are now required to spend a large amount of time and money to verify all certificates and transcripts submitted. Digitisation has aided in this process by the movement of all physical records to digital platforms. This, however, raises the prospect of the loss of all digital records due to cyber threats such as hackers and digital thieves. Such a situation can have repercussions beyond merely the academic domain, with a lack of verifiable certificates leading to inefficient governance and a weak healthcare system due to the cross-linking of user data in the contemporary world.
Blockchain to the rescue: It is into this troubled space that blockchain arrives and has begun to create viable solutions. The digitisation of records represents the first space where the influence of this technology can be felt. Although most universities and organisations have moved from physical to digital transcripts and records, these are still stored in on-site databases. Blockchain allows for the creation of a central server on the cloud where multiple universities and organisations can store records, creating a database that is easily accessible, no matter the geographical location. Within this centralised server, individual profiles can be created for every student and employee who tags their records and renders them unique, thereby combatting the problem of fake certification. An added advantage of these profiles is they remain dynamic and are agnostic to categorisations such as academic and extracurricular, allowing for every profile to be updated in real-time when the individual gains additional capabilities. Such a situation implies that organisations can verify an individual’s credentials more easily and will save on both financial and temporal costs.
From a security perspective, the hub model of information reduces the points of entry for cyber threats while securing the limited ports that exist with elements such as data encryption and two-factor authentication. By securing data in transit, blockchain allows for greater data transparency without the fear of incursions. The creation of digital ledgers also makes tracing the path of information much easier in cases when theft and falsification do occur.
Clearly, blockchain has the potential to transform education. There are, however, certain roadblocks that must be overcome. Cultural indifference and caution towards digital records is the first challenge, as geographies persist in their preservative attitudes towards paper records. Also, data registration is a slow process and some countries still do not possess adequate infrastructure to regulate such a system. These challenges can be overcome, as showcased by the work being done by universities and organisations in the US such as the MIT. The Indian government, too, has put into place plans for the creation of an indigenous blockchain network. Given this scenario, blockchain is set to change the way the education space functions and help ensure that fraud and information security will cease to be menacing issues.
(The author is vice-president and services offering head, Infosys)