Unifinity — Enhancing education through blockchain technology

Introduction

Its success in disrupting such a powerful industry has titillated the curiosity of many early adopters and innovators. This eventually led to the development and use of blockchain in various industries beyond its initial purpose.

Education Industry

Fortunately, a multinational software development company is currently creating a platform that will enable schools and universities to leverage blockchain. Unifinity aims to create the first blockchain-based decentralized application (Dapp) built to enhance security, operational efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and transparency in the entire value chain of educational institutions. According to Unifinity’s whitepaper, they will deliver these benefits at a fraction of the cost of legacy systems as well as in the most timely manner.

Before we delve into Unifinity’s platform, let’s make a quick detour and learn more about blockchain.

What is Blockchain Technology?

First approach: think of it as a database

Furthermore, data is only recorded if the majority of the participants in the network are in agreement that the data is admissible. Once data is recorded it cannot be deleted or modified. The only way to correct errors is by making another transaction that updates the previous data entry.

In addition, a copy of the most recent, updated, and validated version of the blockchain is distributed throughout the entire decentralized network. This is done each and every time a new data is recorded in the blockchain.

Hence, creating a robust, effective, and transparent “paper trail” that is accessible to any participant in the network. This also serves redundancy to protect it from a single point of failure. This makes blockchain more secure from external and internal threats than traditional databases.

Second approach: think of it as a public ledger

Since the validity and value of ledgers stem from the truthfulness of the data or transactions recorded on it, a consensus is required before any information is included. Subsequently, the updated ledger is then replicated and distributed in the entire network ensuring that all participants have the same updated version.

Anyone who wants to check the transactions on this public ledger can easily do so by using blockchain explorers. This provides a simple yet powerful way to verify the status of all transactions in the blockchain. It offers unprecedented transparency in transactions, empowering regular users to check for themselves unadulterated real-time information on transactions.

The net effect is a more trustworthy record of transactions which can serve as irrefutable proof of events that actually happened.

The value of Blockchain technology

Furthermore, macro socio-economic events, as well as the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, will further accelerate the digitization of social interaction. As more people move away from physical interactions and pivots towards virtual environments the need for a safe, secure, and trustworthy platform will continue to grow.

However, a major challenge in these interactions is establishing trust between transacting parties. In order to do this, we have predominantly relied on intermediaries who become trusted entities to ensure that these parties behave exactly how they are supposed to be.

Problems with intermediaries

They also become honey pots or treasure troves of valuable private data that hackers steal to be sold on the dark web. Data that can be used to commit fraud or to have access to one’s financial information (credit/debit card numbers or information to have access to bank accounts and digital wallets).

Many users fall prey to thinking that these services are free, when in fact they are paying them with their own private information and data. Information that can spell disaster legally and financially if it were to fall in the wrong hands. Sadly, this type of arrangement persists and will continue to do so not unless we find a better solution. This is where blockchain technology comes in.

Blockchain is codified trust

But more importantly, blockchain technology enables transactions to be more transparent, censorship-resistant, unstoppable, immutable, and tamper-proof. Transactions that even the developers themselves are not able to reverse or modify without majority agreement of all participants. On top of this, old transactions cannot be erased but can be updated only through a new transaction which again needs to reach consensus prior to being included in the blockchain.

A complete, updated, and verified copy of the blockchain is then propagated through the network each time a new data is added into it. This ensures that everyone in the network always gets the latest version while at the same time making it more secure and less susceptible to a single point of failure.

Disintermediation

Strictly speaking, blockchain does not remove the middlemen’s role in the interaction of users, instead, it replaces them as a digital, trustworthy, and incorruptible middleman that always follows the rules (Smart contracts) of the transactions. The innovation here is replacing trust in human organizations with coded trust.

Finally, aside from the obvious economic and operational advantages of disintermediation, there is a more profound effect of the removal of the middlemen. Many of these trusted 3rd parties become exclusive gatekeepers of truth or trustees of user’s digital assets (data, information, financial assets). Their removal will usher in a new era of decentralized systems and applications that is more inclusive, fairer, and safer.

Introducing Unifinity

The Unifinity platform will provide educational institutions the infrastructure to access Unifinity’s blockchain-based services and its integrated tools. This will enable schools and universities to manage blockchain features and applications without spending too much time and money developing their own proprietary blockchain solution. More importantly, Unifinity will provide the required technical support to optimize the benefits of blockchain-based solutions.

The Unique Value proposition of Unifinity

As a result, many institutions are still using highly inefficient and time-consuming manual processes. This situation creates inefficiencies throughout the school’s ecosystem. From long waiting lines during enrollments, difficulty in real-time tracking of student progression, accounting errors, as well as inefficiencies in services graduates may require when they enter the workforce or pursue higher education.

Unifinity aims to offer a comprehensive blockchain-based solution designed specifically for schools and universities to enhance their administrative processes without breaking the bank. Aside from this, this new revolutionary platform will also allow parents, students, school management, and other organizations to have access (with proper permissions) to all relevant data, enabling them to connect with all blockchain innovation partners, services, and processes.

The developers of Unifinity will be able to do this by leveraging the types of records that can be stored in Blockchains which can be categorized into three: Asset transactions, Smart Contracts, and digital signatures and certificates.

Asset transactions represent the movement of anything that has value, it can in the form of currencies or documentary evidence of ownership rights legally known as title deeds. This is the type of data Blockchain was initially known for proven by bitcoin’s massive success.

Smart contracts are written code stored in a blockchain. Unlike regular contracts, these contracts do not require parties to execute them, instead, they are self-executing. Since they are stored in a blockchain it makes them unstoppable and irreversible.

Furthermore, blockchains can store digital signatures and certificates by storing cryptographic hashes which act as digital fingerprints, making blockchains the perfect infrastructure for public certificate registry.

How will Unifinity enhance education?

Securing Diplomas and Certificates

Unique digitally signed certificates and diplomas will be given directly to students. Verifying the authenticity of the certificate will only require comparison with the digital signature or cryptographic hash stored on the blockchain. This means once certificates and diplomas are issued, educational institutions will not have to spend any further resources to confirm their validity.

Self-Sovereign Identity

With self-sovereign identity, students need not share their private information protecting them from handing over their valuable data. Sharing private information is tantamount of handing over control of one’s own data. In short Unifinity’s platform will allow students to certify their identity without the need to share the underlying data that constitutes the identity.

Blockchain-based Payment Options

Sometimes this could add additional barriers to access education. This is especially true for cross-border studies when students are dealing with multiple fiat currencies. Value transfer is not only expensive but inefficient where intermediaries add on their margins and take time to settle.

This will not happen with blockchain-based payment systems. Cryptocurrencies have proven to be a faster, cheaper, safer, and more accessible alternative financial mechanism. There are no bank holidays on crypto, no intermediaries with additional fees and senders (parents or patrons) will be able to monitor real-time information about the movement of their money. It also introduces new dynamics to how students can get funding for their education.

New ways to Fund Student’s Education

Donors, patrons, and educational grant organizations will have various and innovative means to provide funding for student’s education. Blockchain-based tools (digital signatures, blockchain explorers, and smart contracts) will allow them to verify that grants and donations go to intended recipients.

Education institutions will have the ability to use Unifinity tokens for grants or voucher-based funder to help deserving students who may not have the financial capacity to pay for their education. Smart contract-powered vouchers can be programmed to release tranches of funding to either the student or the educational institution when certain hardcoded conditions are met. This will be self-executing, cutting through the inefficiencies of bureaucracies within the educational institution.

Incentivization and Rewards Mechanism

While quality education and performing well in school give students higher chances of success in the future, which are rewards in itself, many students do not fully grasp this concept. “Chance” is after all not a guarantee that success will certainly follow. In a world where instant gratification is becoming a norm, real-time incentivization and rewards mechanisms like this might prove to be invaluable tools to help students excel in school.

Attending classes, adding new skills, acing exams, participating in extracurricular activities, or maintaining a grade average can be some of the basis for students to get rewarded. School administrators, parents, and patrons can configure how rewards are released which will be executed on-chain (execute through smart contracts).

Conclusion

Many pundits believe that we have barely scratched the surface of the real potential of this emerging technology and they might be correct on their assessment. There are still a lot of technical and regulatory issues that have yet to be resolved in the space. This is one of the reasons why blockchain technology has not yet reached mass adoption despite the enormous benefits it offers.

On the brighter side, blockchain developers are continuously innovating and slowly but surely have been addressing many of the technical challenges (scalability and interoperability) this emerging tech is currently facing. Moreover, more jurisdictions are beginning to provide regulatory clarity for this technology and its implementations. In fact, in some countries, it has been considered as one of the technological pillars that will usher in the 4th industrial revolution.

Zeroing in the education sector, early evaluation of Unifinity reveals that blockchain technology indeed has the capacity to enhance many aspects of the education system. Many of the essential ones are already integrated into Unifinity’s platform and it won’t be a surprise if many more processes will be added in the future as the project progresses.

Some of the interesting features (as suggested by the Joint Research Centre) that hopefully get included are:

  • Blockchain-based automatic recognition and transfer of credits. Helpful when students are changing their field of study or cross-registering to other schools or universities.
  • Blockchain-based accreditation of schools. This will streamline verifying the legitimacy of accreditation claims of many learning institutions.
  • Blockchain-based tracking and rewarding of intellectual property. Students and teachers retain ownership of their school work or teaching materials. It also provides means to get rewarded based on use or citations
  • Blockchain-based lifelong learning passport. (This is not to be confused with Cambridge, Microsoft and Unicef’s initiative dubbed as Learning Passport). This functionality is the extension of storing student’s learning credentials. It takes on the form of a verifiable CV that contains all learning and employment records.

Only time will tell if blockchain-based solutions like Unifinity will be a success or not. But one thing is sure, visionaries in blockchain technology will continue to explore the potential of this nascent industry and will continue to innovate to address the many challenges of our rapidly changing times. This technology has already proven itself in perhaps the most powerful and influential industry. How long do you think it would take before this will disrupt the education sector?

Finally, as institutions that would help mold future leaders and responsible citizens of the world, it would be of great disservice to themselves and to their students if no effort to leverage this technology. A technology that might as well help establish the new norm in all human social interaction amidst the clear and present risks of our times.

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Blockchain/crypto enthusiast from the Philippines.

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