The instant connection of the internet has allowed us to share information and collaborate on a global scale, and this has laid the foundation for the next wave of exponential technologies, including artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and blockchain.
The purpose of this is to give you an initial understanding of why blockchain technology is important and why it matters for the education world. I want to emphasize the principles and purpose driving the community behind this technology more than the details of the technology itself, because this could have the potential to solve deeper issues.
What is blockchain trying to solve?
Blockchain is an architecture of computing that uses cryptography to link a growing list of records, called blocks, organized in an open and distributed ledger. The design of the blockchain makes it resistant to modifying the data. This technology had its big debut when financially applied in the Bitcoin whitepaper, published in 2008 for the open source community. The premise was that “a purely peer-to-peer version of electronic cash would allow online payments to be sent directly from one party to another without going through a financial institution”1.
Since then, people around the world have been inspired to apply this technology beyond finance, such as in law, health, and philanthropy. What underpins these approaches is the desire to allow value to flow without intermediaries. Various ethical and inefficiency issues in a process or system can be targeted by the opportunities that this technology can introduce.
The imagination and creativity of people have allowed this technology to be analyzed, criticized, expanded upon, reduced, and stretched. And as with any concept that gets thrown into the minds and mouths of people, blockchain has had its fair share of being misunderstood and exaggerated. So if you are interested, undertake your own learning journey and create your own opinions about this.
What is happening now?
The landscape now is one of learning, building, failing, and iterating. Various blockchain projects have taken the notion of decentralization to every part of their functioning, and out of these, you see new and interesting ways of self-organizing and governance. Thorny issues around security, ownership, privacy, and transparency have been brought to the forefront and speculated by various people in the community.
Blockchain in education
There are three main ways to approach this topic:
- a) Practical: using blockchain technology within our education systems, such as digital credentials to track and prove our learning
- b) Educational: educating students and the general population about blockchain, and growing the research in this area
- c) Organizational/Social: applying principles of the technology to our own formations of governance in education.
You will find organizations and projects for a) and b) sprouting up everywhere. I’d like to emphasize c) because it could have the largest impact on our education systems. A lot of our issues in education, whether it be access to schools and resources, student debt, or support for teachers, could be alleviated if we reshaped how we govern our institutions. Even on a global scale, “‘education is shaped mainly by a handful of universities in a few countries. Such a model assumes a deficit of knowledge in other parts of the world and a belief that non-Western parts of the world have less or even nothing to contribute”2.
Our education systems still have a long way to go; almost 303 million children aged 5 to 17 are out of school worldwide3. Even for those attending school, we can’t guarantee that they are having access to quality education. The disparity between our best and our worst schools is ever increasing and even the best schools are seeing a mismatch towards the job market.
It’s hard to separate education from the economy and governance
Ultimately, we have to keep up with developments in other industries to strengthen the purpose of education. Back in the days when noblemen and the ruling family were the only ones who had access to education, they would individually be taught by a group of dedicated experts. Then came the industrial revolution which helped democratize access to education. The model of education followed the economic principles of: free, mass, and public. Follow the trend and you’ll see that we’ve now moved to a networked model because of the internet, we can learn remotely and access content about anything we like.
So are we prepared?
I purposely refrained from sharing examples in this article because I have a specific goal in mind for you. This is a call to action for those of you in the education space, of all backgrounds, particularly students and teachers. If you’re curious or interested in what this technology can do, undertake your own research and test it out. If you’re grappling with issues and believe that we could use this to alleviate it, then make your voice heard and let us know what this could do for you.
We’re just getting started.
Share your thoughts with me on Twitter @VestaGheibi or email firstname.lastname@example.org
1 S. Nakamoto, “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System,” https://bitcoin.org/bitcoin.pdf, 2008
2 T. Adam, “The Future of MOOCs Must Be Decolonized,” https://www.edsurge.com/news/2019-01-03-the-future-of-moocs-must-be-decolonized, 2019
3 UNICEF, “A Future Stolen: Young and out-of-school,” page 5, 2018