Blockchain's Impact on Education
Learning is one of our most fundamental abilities. It’s how we develop and grow from the time we’re born. By the time we’re teenagers or young adults, what we’ve learned so far and what we’re willing to continue learning will largely determine our success in life.
Being able to demonstrate what we’ve learned is essential to being granted access to institutions of higher learning. Before that, it can be the key to entering selective elementary and secondary schools that can shape the rest of our lives. And from graduation onward, our credentials are one of the keys to getting jobs and advancing in our careers.
Education Industry Challenges Blockchain Can Help Solve
The education industry suffers from a number of flaws so entrenched that we almost do not notice them. But some people have not only noticed them, they’ve come up with ways to eliminate them—ways that use blockchain.
- Students can’t access their own education records when they need them.
Have you ever needed an official transcript or diploma from a school you attended? These documents can be indispensable when applying for certain jobs, degree programs, and professional credentials. You probably had to figure out how to request the document you needed, pay a fee, then visit the school to pick it up or wait for it to come in the mail. If we could store records of our educational credentials on a blockchain, we could access them and securely share them almost instantly, whenever we needed to.
- Individuals can easily falsify education records and credentials.
The consequences to society might be minimal if someone pretends they graduated from Harvard to get accepted to a master’s program in literature. But when it comes to fields like medicine, lying can be a matter of life and death, and it’s important to make it as difficult as possible for individuals to pass themselves off as having skills they lack. In 2018, Israeli police arrested 40 doctors, medical interns, and pharmacists believed to have presented false diplomas from Armenian medical schools. These individuals received fake diplomas after completing minimal training, then some were able to pass accreditation exams and practice medicine. In fact, it’s incredibly easy to order a fake diploma online that looks legit.
- Educational institutions, employers, and credentialing bodies must channel resources toward verifying individuals’ degrees, transcripts, and professional training.
For every individual that requests an official copy of their educational credentials, at least one other individual has to process that request. If the credentials can instead be set up and published to a blockchain once, then it becomes much simpler not just for individuals to obtain and share their credentials but also for institutions to spend their administrative resources on other tasks.
- Educational credentials can become inaccessible.
Refugees flee their homelands and end up with no way to prove they have the degrees they earned. Schools shut down and abandon their alumni. Schools get acquired or consolidated and records get lost. Blockchain-based transcripts can be identically stored on thousands of computers around the world. This means they can’t be lost or tampered with.
- Workers can’t easily demonstrate relevant skills to prospective employers.
How frustrating is it to know you have the skills to perform a job you want to apply for, but not have a way to prove you can do the job? You don’t get to use those skills in your current position and you didn’t learn them in school—but you have them nonetheless. If we start using blockchain as a way to prove that we’ve taken continuing education classes, attended lectures, taught others, traveled abroad, and done other things to expand our knowledge outside our degrees and our current jobs, we might be able to obtain more fulfilling work and employers might be better able to hire passionate, qualified people.
Blockchain: The Future of Education?
People have been dreaming up and bringing to fruition numerous opportunities to use blockchain technology in education. Current projects come from all types of sources:
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT is working with software-development company Learning Machine to provide its graduates with digital diplomas that are secured on a blockchain. Graduates can access and share their diplomas with the Blockcerts Wallet smartphone app. It was designed to be easy for anyone to use without understanding how blockchains work.
- The country of Malta: Also working with the Learning Machine, the government of Malta’s education ministry is issuing notarized blockchain certificates to certify both professional and informal education. It hopes to create a more inclusive way of preparing the country’s youth to work.
- Central New Mexico Community College: This nationally accredited college with more than 20,000 enrollees is also using blockchain technology to issue digital diplomas to its graduates.
- Enable: Enable is piloting a crowdsourced student loan that relies on a blockchain-based smart contract. Individuals can invest in someone’s education by loaning them money and getting it back, with interest, through an income-sharing agreement after the borrower completes their education and starts their career. Instead of repaying a fixed sum, the borrower repays a percentage of their income over a certain number of years. This type of funding can be especially important for students who are attending school overseas. They may not have access to credit in either their home country or their host country, but they may have credentials that make them solid candidates for high future earnings.
- Sony Global Education: This company has developed blockchain technology that allows for academic records such as transcripts and test results to be shared securely.
- Learning is Earning 2026: This project aims to use blockchains to store all sorts of educational credentials—not just college diplomas—so individuals can better monetize their knowledge.
Challenges to Incorporating Blockchain into the Education Industry
Blockchains can make it harder to forge educational credentials, but they don’t necessarily protect against the issuer or receiver of a credential impersonating someone else. Identity fraud will still need to be guarded against with additional technology (specifically, public key registries managed by trusted intermediaries such as private companies or public institutions).
Privacy is another concern, especially when it comes to the educational records of children. So is permanence. Teachers and principals have long relied on the classic empty threat, “This will go on your permanent record!” in mostly futile attempts to get kids to obey.
With blockchain, education records actually could become permanent, making it harder for a struggling student to get a second chance or make a fresh start. Even if students (or their parents) supposedly retain control over whom to share records with and when because of blockchain’s cryptography, how real is that control when the options are to share a record or not be considered for admission or employment?
Blockchain technology offers the potential to change how we store, access, share, and even think about educational credentials. Some institutions and businesses are already implementing ways to make this happen. Others are still exploring the possibilities. The critics and skeptics will help strengthen those ideas and maybe prevent flawed uses of this technology. The enhancements blockchains might bring to education could expand opportunities for people from all walks of life and countries around the world.