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How a blockchain-based platform can help overcome Africa’s persistent education challenges of high illiteracy and inadequate funding.

Education holds the key to economic empowerment. But the costs of providing a quality education and the geographic imbalances in the location of the most prestigious institutions mean that too many people remain shut out of a good education, squandering so much potential. The blockchain holds out the promise of overturning this fundamental unfairness.

Already, the first universities have started to use the blockchain in order to dramatically reduce administration costs, offer more accessible fees and thereby widen access. The University of Nicosia last year started to use the blockchain to provide diplomas and certificates and, in addition, to accept payment in cryptocurrency for a Masters programme, with a ‘pay as you go’ fee system that avoids remittance charges attracting many students from developing countries. Its Massive Open Online Courses are further widening accessibility to education.

Open Blockchain University, Sony and MIT are among the institutions following suit and harnessing the power of the Blockchain to transform education. Over time, replacing administrative middlemen with mathematics will bring students, teachers and course authors in direct relationship with one another, and could mean new services for those currently unable to enrol in courses. For example, when a student views a learning video, a small micropayment could automatically be made to the video authors.

The challenge facing educators in Africa whose task is to turn around high illiteracy rates is made harder with often inadequate funding levels. The education sector is beginning to turn to the blockchain in some African nations in order to positively influence this potentially liberating public service. For example, blockchain apps are being trialed in early childhood development centres in order to help school teachers, students, programme administrators and government workers in South Africa.

The United Nations International Child Emergency Fund has encouraged such initiatives, which have provided a trusted source of invaluable data on education needs and demographics, and the participation of children. This has, in turn, provided a solid basis for attracting funding from donors in development, and while dramatically reducing paperwork for the schools. These first steps towards using the power of the blockchain have shown much promise, but there is still a long way to go before the problems of burdensome administration, low funding levels, and poor evidence for donors are tackled.

One of the biggest problems on top of these for education in sub-Saharan Africa are low attendance levels: about one-fifth of children between the ages of six and 11 are out of school, and one-third between the ages of 12 and 14, according to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics. By the age of 15, the majority of young people are no longer in education, in what has been described as an emergency. This central problem stems from both inadequate provision, but also from poverty and financial exclusion. In sub-Saharan African nations, population growth has meant that more people are on low-incomes than in 1990. Children are another mouth to feed and all too often they have to work – a staggering 40% of children aged five to 14 have to focus on the present rather than their future, according to the International Labour Organisation.

While official school fees were eliminated for public schools, many are still unable to attend because of all the other costs incurred – transport to school, uniforms, and books and other school materials. And even children who attend school – and in the nation of Tanzania, for example, it is compulsory for a child of seven years to be enrolled – are often facing an uphill struggle due to living in poverty. In that East African nation, while around 50% of students pass national exams at the end of primary school and move onto secondary school, only a small fraction of these, ten per cent, pass their secondary school exams. Inadequate attainment means the opportunity to access employment is thwarted.

With two-thirds of Africans without a bank account, overcoming the lack of opportunity for themselves and their children by borrowing to invest in a better future, or entering into transactions with people outside very local markets, is highly constrained. Breaking the vicious circle of illiteracy and poverty will require more dramatic interventions still.

A blockchain startup that shows promise to this end is Humaniq, a platform to economically empower those finding barriers in their way to advancing. It crucially provides bio-identification for all those citizens of African nations without the ID they need to access crucial services, and has already unlocked access to financial services. This identification, used to build up a record of economic performance, could also be used to build up a record of educational attainment for young people. Introducing education on the blockchain, as already trail-blazed in Europe and the U.S, would allow all citizens of the world with a unique ID to access this.
In addition, Humaniq provides the financial accounts that so many Africans lack – and are on target to have one million such accounts by the end of the year. This provides a new way to earn – and also to learn. This provides a myriad of possible applications involving receiving funding with zero fees, with such accounts already allowing deposits from development donors. Linking people with funds and others spearheading new initiatives and projects is a prerequisite for lasting development.

In short, the blockchain can be utilised for the good of society, as well as the good of the economy, providing a tool to open doors for the growing number of Africa’s citizens with a basic smartphone. The blockchain startup Humaniq was one recognised as a project for good by the UK Parliament’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Blockchain, established to ensure that both industry and society benefit from the full potential of the technology. The MPs said it was one of the world’s leading use cases of Blockchain for social good.

The blockchain links people to opportunity in a way the Internet has not always managed to. The technology removes the need for tech giant intermediaries who have benefited more than most from the Internet, and instead empowers people in a true peer-to-peer economy and society. For example, the blockchain gives the female entrepreneurs with lower access to markets to make a better living out of rising global food demand by selling their crops to the agribusinesses relying on smallholder farmers. The Humaniq Stories feature of that app arms the app’s community with essential information that encourages such new interactions – a guide to the journey the app can take them on.

Previous technologies, from the television to the Internet, provided a window on the world, with the latter holding out the promise of broadcasting to others. All the while, the stubborn problems of illiteracy and poverty persisted and even grew. The blockchain, in contrast, provides both a tool, and a route-map, giving both the wherewithal and showing the way for those on low-incomes to get out of poverty.

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