Transforming Scottish Education through the Blockchain and Self Sovereign Identity

The keystone foundation companion to the Blockchain is Digital Identity, enabling the development of interoperating digital ecosystems with built in ‘smart contract’ integrity.

The building block of digital identity ecosystems are ‘verifiable credentials‘, the core mechanics for forming these ecosystems through sharing Identity data between collaborating partners, exemplified by initiatives such as the EU’s recent announcement and explained here by the OIX Identity forum.

Digital Certificates and Badges

Education is an ideal sector for illustrating their practical application.

Our school diplomas and university degrees are credentials that every one can easily relate to and understand the societal value of, and with the rise in fake certificate fraud an obvious demonstrator of the need for the assured integrity of these documents.

The role and value of digital certification in today’s modern world can most simply be described visually:

This example highlights their immediate value to employment, how they can be modular and very specific to workplace roles – an AWS Solution Architect is a very well defined function, and not only does the digital certificate validate the required skills have been achieved but they can also be used to socially promote the fact we have them, increasing our chances of securing such a job.

Blockchain

The purpose of introducing the Blockchain into the mix is to add another layer to enhance the validation aspect of this, ensuring the authenticity of certificates and badges.

The types of innovation that seem to be focusing on this type of use case include ‘Blockcerts‘, an open source blockchain project for enabling a Universal Verifier that will verify any Blockcert issued by any institution, anywhere in the world.

Via their Medium article UniversaBlockchain explore the scenario of Blockchain in Education.

They highlight keynote problems like the high rates of medical school diploma falsification as pain points a technology like Blockchain is ideal for tackling in some form, among a wave of other transformative benefits for the sector as it ripples through all workflow areas related to HR, resume checking, et al.

Athena builds on this some, notably detailing the core signature process that underpins the integrity of the record, as a comparison to traditional paper-based approaches:

  • Blockchain-enabled digital certificates are immutable and cannot be forged
  • The records are stored on a distributed ledger, hence certificates can be only evaluated by anyone who has access to the blockchain
  • Since the records are stored in a shared distributed ledger, the certificate can still be validated even if the organization that had issued it no longer exists
  • The digital certificates stored in the ledger can only be destroyed if all the copies in every system are destroyed.

In his Medium blog Timothy Ruff provides an excellent, detailed summary of this interconnected ecosystem will begin to take shape with SSI as the keystone foundation.

He explains how:

  • Organizations like the T3 Innovation Network, within the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are developing Learning and Employment Records, powered by the same VC standards and technologies that enable self-sovereign student ID, with the same issue, hold, verify model to/from an SSI wallet, which they call a “learner wallet” for simplicity.
  • This will help reduce and eliminate student fraud. Once organizations realize they can receive cryptographic proof directly from the student, they can lessen their reliance on passwords, social security numbers, and other personal information.

Digitary – Power to the People

Digitary is a vendor specializing in combining SSI with digital certification, and offers a suite of features for managing academic credentials and digital badges.

As this news highlights one of the first customers to harness this capability is the Association of the Registrars of the Universities and Colleges of Canada (ARUCC),  choosing Digitary as the solution provider for the Made for Canada National Network. This has been followed by launching ‘MyCreds‘, a national, bilingual credential wallet supported by a comprehensive website for Canada’s post-secondary community and learners.

This initiative means the Canadian higher education community is creating the very first online platform and national credential wallet for post-secondary learners. Once fully operational, the Network will enable 3 million learners across the country to access and share their official digitized post-secondary transcripts and credentials online – anytime, anywhere.

As CTO Takis Diakoumis writes:

“Portable learner credentials and the ability to securely assert claims to knowledge is the key enabler in ensuring this freedom of movement across places of learning and work. In exploring the next sustainable ecosystem for learners, we begin to note the technological evolution of self-sovereignty and the broader reimagination of our digital identity.”

“SSI enables the sharing of data in a new, controlled and trusted way, a way where no one can take it away or switch it off. A new foundational connection between institutions and learners is formed where we can completely reimagine the learner relationship, for life. The enormous impact is beyond any one sector. It is about human connections and digital trust; about how we relate to the world around us and where learners become the cornerstone of the next digital revolution.”

A New Paradigm for Education

The impact of this technology will go far beyond simply securing the integrity of the issued certificates, it will provide a foundation for the wholesale transformation of how education is provided. This Cointelegraph article explores the nature and details of this transformation.

Blockchain and Digital Credential experts Christopher Allen and Kim Hamilton Duffy explain how a key trend is ‘personal data agency’ – To date academic credentials like degrees and transcripts are held centrally, and individuals must navigate a number of challenges and approvals to obtain access to and share them for employment purposes.

They can also be changed, deleted and shared without consent or knowledge of the individuals, and so the advent of the Blockchain era will see users take direct control and ownership of their records, and via technologies that ensure their integrity. This would be hugely impactful in scenarios like immigration, where an increasing number of migrants that either have lost their credentials or for whom it is impossible to tell if their documents are valid.

This will enable a “peer to peer” approach to learning. Christopher Allen highlights:

“This makes it possible for there to be P2P [peer-to-peer] competency credentials, from fellow students, teachers, co-workers, clients, contractors, employers — not just educational institutions.”

In other words not only can a single individual be the teacher providing the education but also the ‘institution’ certifying the student has learned the skill accordingly. Their own reputation as an expert in the field would underpin its’ legitimacy.

Conclusion

Implementing these technologies would yield multiple benefits in Scotland. It would simultaneously advance their status as a world leading digital nation, enhance the integrity and efficiency of education systems and lay the foundation for entirely transforming the sector for the 21st century.

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