Today’s schools adhere to a century-old ‘factory model’ of education, bequeathed by the industrial revolution. A production-line theory of education might have served the needs of industrial society, but falls short in an exponential era characterized by rapid technological change. Nearly 2 Million students drop out of college each year without earning a degree. A substantial amount of blame should be placed on K-12 schools for producing ill-prepared students.
The future of education starts with fostering the imagination of students at a young age. After all, how can they be certain that the information they receive is timeless wisdom or outdated bias? Advancements in Machine Learning, AI and Distributed Ledger Technology can challenge the status quo and transform educational institutions into entities that promote creative thought and pique curiosity. This article explores the potential impact of distributed ledgers on education.
Introducing a New Era of Education
Merriam-Webster defines the word ‘censor’ as “to examine in order to suppress anything considered objectionable.” Educational institutions were originally established as a foundation for a free and flourishing society. However, anyone who has spent time in a classroom knows that educators sometimes stifle ideation by restricting dialogue. The root of censorship stems from political intentions and controlling opinions on topics such as religion.
Imagine educators objecting to Darwin’s theory of evolution just because it holds against their religious views. Josh Corngold argues that a dynamic clash of contrary ideas offers the best prospect of getting to the crux of any complex subject. Censoring such material in schools not only prevents this from happening but also forces students to hold on to a stable worldview or identity. As the fourth industrial revolution unfolds, individuals having a one-dimensional view of the world risk being left behind.
Distributed ledgers introduce a new era of education: a system where information is immutable and censor-free. Present-day learning follows a centralized model that is no longer sustainable — a system that programs students to become an expert in ten different subjects by cramming repetitive information. DLTs allow for complete disintermediation of higher education, enabling individuals to circumvent restrictions placed upon them by accessing immutable information that cannot be concealed or manipulated.
The emergence of new transactional models within an ecosystem of students, teachers and course authors could facilitate increased access to cheaper, in-demand courses. For instance, the native currency of a ledger can incentivize professors to develop popular course offerings centered around the needs of students. In this reality of distributed learning, no centralized authority has a say in your education. DLTs enable students to follow their passions and access verified courses of their liking. By gaining flexible access to courses and content, adults can gain control of their individual education and equip themselves with the skillset required to succeed in an ever-changing environment.
Secure Records Management
Most educational institutions issue certificates and diplomas in the form of paper documents. This has been the case for years, but how easy is it to forge such a document? Distributed ledgers enable institutions to issue immutable digital certificates that are valid in perpetuity. The authenticity of these cryptographically secure documents can be verified against the blockchain. Further, it is hard to manage and keep track of all certificates attained by an individual over time. By dematerializing documents, distributed ledgers avoid the risk of misplacing or falsifying such records.
Notarizing certificates on a public blockchain automatically transforms documents into a verifiable piece of information that can be accessed by third-parties across the world. Currently, access to public platforms such as Mozilla Open Badges requires students to divulge private information in the form of metadata. Distributed ledgers can be adopted as a ‘proof of knowledge’ where only information marked public by students would be accessible to anyone. By doing so, individuals can approach employers and academic institutions with a discreet level of confidentiality.
Today, central authorities are responsible for validating the educational credentials of an individual. Yet, employers have not been able to ascertain the qualifications of their employees, leading to potentially dangerous situations. Applications built over distributed ledgers can bring students and badge issuers together by simplifying the process of gaining access to credentials gained over an individual’s lifetime.
Beyond the Classroom: Calling Out Fake News
Education goes beyond the classroom. We currently live in a digital era where lots of information flood us. Governments and censors understand that it is difficult to conceal all information that isn’t to their liking. Instead, they resort to spreading misinformation in the form of fake news: propaganda that is spread through traditional news and social media platforms. The overwhelming presence of conflicting reports and contradictory accounts make it difficult to know what or whom to believe.
“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”
― George Orwell, 1984
Documents that are hundreds, thousands of years old lose their integrity over time, as they could be manipulated many times depending on the political regime. By providing a single version of the truth, distributed ledgers can lead the fight against the spread of disinformation. All news and historical events can immutably be stored on a distributed ledger and signed by an authenticated entity. Doing so ensures that the reliability of sources can be validated, thereby enabling information transparency.
Final Words: Stay Woke!
Everyone has a stake in the future of education — Parents, Educational Institutions and Technology. In an era where machines and sensors take center stage, constant learning is paramount to stay economically and socially relevant. Some of the most imaginative humans around happen to be kids, and introducing them to technologies such as AI, Machine Learning and DLTs can encourage them to start asking ‘What If’ questions.
Distributed ledgers offer a world where individuals can proactively educate themselves throughout their lifetime. A foolproof system that immutably stores a student’s entire academic history can not only prevent fraud, but also curb bottlenecks associated with bespoke learning. In short, DLTs can transform existing educational practices and drastically reduce the dissemination of misinformation.
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The Helix Foundation is a proud sponsor of ESMT Hacknight 2018 — A two day Hackathon centered around the future of education.