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Education In India Needs A Digitalization And Blockchain Push

This piece is by no means an apology for examinations; in fact, we will consider the question “if not formal exams, what?”. For ease of argument, consider prospective employers, schools and higher education institutions as the primary benefactors of examinations as they would like an easy numerical measure of the student’s competence.

Examinations across academic levels are now increasingly reviled even as they continue to be momentous events for lakhs of students, especially in a ‘seats-starved’ country like ours. From being stressful to being an incompetent measure of competence, the system of frequent formal examinations has had almost every imaginable allegation leveled at it. This piece is by no means an apology for examinations; in fact, we will consider the question “if not formal exams, what?”. For ease of argument, consider prospective employers, schools and higher education institutions as the primary benefactors of examinations as they would like an easy numerical measure of the student’s competence.

Broadly speaking, any data that can be generated using students’ performance should be able to act as pointers on the degree to which the student has achieved the course outcomes. Apart from examinations, such data includes submissions and assignments. No matter which undergraduate or post-graduate course you do, the number of assignments one submits, both individual and as a group, is large enough to create a breadcrumb trail leading to your final Grade Point Average. In fact, most educational systems blend these assignments into your subject-wise grade where the logic is that the final subject grade is a good enough proxy of your performance across all the tasks, including the final examination.

To compare this to cricket, it is tantamount to saying that batsmen’ selection should be basis only overall averages of your contending batsmen. Select the ones with the higher average, show the door to the others. While this is a good heuristic to start with, it forgets to attribute enough credit to other nuances like the opposition you are playing, the pitch and weather conditions, recent form and mental and physical fitness of the batsmen in question. The folly of such an approach in cricket is clear as day and yet a similar approach to education is not questioned with the zest it deserves.

 It is not difficult to imagine other industries too where a vast majority of data generated is dumped in the interest of undoubtedly useful representative data only. With increasing ease of digitization and dwindling costs of storage though, more and more data is being brought to bear. What will it take for more granular data to be collected in education?

One, adoption of low-barrier, in-the-cloud technology solutions for the activities being conducted in the Admissions Office and Academics Office of educational institutions

Two, infrastructural moves backed by public policy discourse and regulations

As an example, till day, the tools of choice to organize, manage and store students’ profile and transcripts data, as well as alumni data, are spreadsheets. So long as education continues to be an end-to-end paper-driven process, collecting granular data through activities around the academic year will remain a pipe-dream. Such tools will invariably be developed by enterprising companies.

As for infrastructural changes, we seem to be on the right track with development towards initiatives like certificates on Blockchain, being spearheaded by Niti Aayog. The awareness that writing student data on the immutable distributed ledger technology will create value is a step in the right direction. Many readers will remember the questions that were asked about the real, verifiable number of trained candidates created by Skill Development spends well over Rs.1000 crores declared by the Government of India 2-3 years ago. If the impaneled institutes receiving such outlay could be mandated to upload certifications awarded along with grading of assignments and submissions of each candidate on a Blockchain network linked to the unique Aadhar number of the candidate, leakages and suspicions could both be precluded effectively. The creation of such an all-encompassing Blockchain infrastructure linked to India Stack is, of course, a journey of a thousand miles. The count seems to have taken the first step.

One must also ask what value such sophisticated systems will create. Apart from driving accountability in public spends and aiding the employability of graduates churning out of our systems, it will tease the friction out of both private and public sector hiring processes. Today, an employer looks at a fresh resume that says the candidate in question has studied, say, JavaScript programming in his college course and scored a grade of A. Imagine if instead the employer could see on a Blockchain platform all the different assignments the candidate has done in JavaScript and estimate reliably that the candidate is familiar with the basics of JavaScript development but will need to be trained further on the reusability of his code. The outcome will be quicker, easier and cheaper hiring cycles resulting in the reduction of blind spots whereby candidates bemoan the paucity of opportunities and paradoxically employers lament the lack of talent.



Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house


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