The Vision of Learning Blocks

Jehane Akiki
Jan 20, 2019 · 4 min read

Building the Blueprint for a Decentralized Education System Starting With Refugees

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Education, if done right, should enable refugees to improve their lives. It instills in them the skill sets needed to secure employment and earn decent income to become more self-sufficient individuals that do not depend on aid to survive. In reality though, refugees face a debilitating education certification problem that is preventing them from reaping its full benefits.

Refugees in host countries, especially in the Middle East, are stuck in a vicious circle where only national public schools can provide them with certified education, yet those same schools fail in providing them with effective education. In Lebanon, for instance, the country with the highest percentage of refugees in the world, 70% of Syrian refugees drop out of public schools, mainly due to the difficulties they face in learning, discrimination, and transportation costs.

NGOs have stepped in to fill that gap by delivering efficient education programs that are tailored to their needs, incorporate mental health/psychosocial support, and that even teach skills such as coding, robotics, and other 21st-century skills, but they cannot offer recognized certification for their classes. Because of that, refugees are often presented with an education that in fact offers little to no opportunities.

Learning Blocks is a blockchain-powered education certification system that was born as a solution to this problem with the goal of providing an alternative through skills-based credentialing. Using blockchain technology, a distributed, cryptographic ledger, we are creating permanent, immutable, and verifiable certificates for each completed skill, course, and workshop. Certificates are signed by their providers without the need for a central or governmental authority to authenticate them. The institution’s accreditation acts in lieu of that and certifies its own particular course. Upon passing the course, a blockchain-backed token certificate would be immediately deposited into the student’s “wallet” or portfolio. Each token certificate can then be connected with another one by a different course provider, thus creating sequential learning portfolios that combine all of the student’s achievements, and are linked to the identity of the student and controlled by him/her.

In doing so, we are building the hardware to certify a decentralized education system which provides students with the freedom and choice to leverage different education resources and craft their own learning trajectory. The long-term vision for Learning Blocks is to create an open-source, collaborative education system where learners can choose from available, certified courses by different providers on various platforms without worrying about the proof, or certification, for their education. The ability to tailor degrees as such would result in a highly-curated, ‘mix and match’ education style where students can choose from the best courses and resources available and build their own certified ‘on-demand’ learning process to best meet their needs.

We are starting to build such a system by placing refugees at the forefront of innovation and providing a solution for their certification problem while laying down the foundations for a decentralized education system. By encouraging the use of internationally recognized tools, courses, and resources in the refugee learning process, we are issuing individual certificates signed by course providers without having to resort to governments and centralized authorities to certify their entire education. This ability to accumulate learning credentials from different providers on an immutable and trustworthy technology is needed for refugees, as it has become common for them to attend multiple workshops and courses held by different institutions from UN organizations to universities, coding bootcamps and more. Having a uniform and well-managed way of certifying and storing credentials helps them more seamlessly overcome the obstacles imposed by their refugee status, thereby unlocking better education and employment opportunities as they build up their portfolios.

This would, in turn, creates a more efficient education system — one that is concerned with teaching in the best way possible instead of graduating further unemployment. In a student-centered system, institutions would be competing on offering compelling educational content that captures the student’s interests instead of students vying for academic institutions based on their reputation. The focus would be on adapting to the changes brought on by the future of work by technology and automation and teaching readily employable skills to launch a person into a rapidly evolving job market. Micro-credentialing and micro-courses are taking a stronghold in the future of education, but right now they all exist in silo. Learning Blocks aims to be as open as possible, house different course providers, and link their certificates together in a uniform manner to ultimately help students create sequential learning profiles for themselves and unlock lifelong learning opportunities. By starting with refugees and their pressing certification problem, Learning Blocks would be building this system for all. We would be changing the narrative around refugees into one that sees migration as an opportunity for development, innovation, and change.

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