The education system is not ideal in most countries. Especially in third world countries, people don’t have access to quality education although all of the information is out there in the form of online courses etc. Blockchain technology could possibly offer an alternative that I am talking about in today’s episode.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to talk to a class of about sixty eighteen-year-olds in a monastery near Einsiedeln in Switzerland.
These students are in their second last year of high school and they’re doing what they call a Business Week. So they all don’t study business but once in their 4-year high school program, they have the opportunity to partake in this business week where groups of four or five people each run a company for five days. They simulate all kinds of decisions and things that they need to do. CEO, Chief Marketing Officer, operations, processes and I think one fifth grow.
And part of what they do during that week is they get some guest speakers to talk about what it is like to run companies. A friend of mine is a teacher there for that week. He normally works at a bank but during that week he is one of their teachers. And he invited me to come to speak to the students.
Something that I really like about people at that age between sixteen and twenty, I think this age 16 to 20 is a great age to just explore the world and be curious about anything. It’s where a lot of young adults decide what they’re going to do with the next few years of their life. And so I really value this opportunity to go talk to them and also get feedback from them and hear what they’re thinking about and how they react to my lifestyle, what they think about crypto and so on and so forth.
How many students own cryptocurrencies?
One thing that surprised me when we were talking yesterday to these students was that almost none of them owned any crypto when I compared it to the guys that I had in my recent army training course. Who are probably five to ten years older on average but still almost a third or 40% of them own some sort of token or coin. Or had at least played with it and maybe mined some or are very interested in crypto.
These guys here – out of the sixty students that I was talking to, about three or four held their hand up when I asked owns any coins.
I’m not saying if this is good or bad, I’m just saying it was less than I thought what it would be. And when we talked about tokens and coins, one of the things we also talked about is how it can impact the education system.
How can blockchain technology change education?
I found it especially interesting to talk to the students who are currently part of our education
system to think about how blockchain could change it, make it better or worse and what they think about they can contribute to.
What I think is wrong with today’s education system
I think the education system in Switzerland is great. It’s world-class, it’s almost for free. Even going to a world-class University cost me, I think, 700 Swiss francs per semester which is nothing if you compare it to the likes of Stanford or most other private universities in the US. But I still think there are ways to improve the education system, especially on a global level.
Access to good education is not universal
I believe that education and education systems are one of the biggest equalizers of the 21st century. I believe that if someone who is born and raised in a developing country early on has access to similar education systems that I do here in Switzerland or someone does in the US, that individual’s opportunities 5-10-15 years down the road are going to be much more equal to people in developed countries than not. Why?
I think there are so many jobs that are currently coming into existence in our world that are mostly digital. There are a lot of jobs that digital nomads can do, there are a lot of jobs for which you don’t have to be in a certain place or a certain geography. You can just work on your laptop. And smartphones and laptops are getting cheaper and cheaper and more and more ubiquitous. That’s why I think if someone has the same education and, a very important point, can prove that they’ve gone through that education, have done the same tests, they will have access to a much bigger job market than they had in the past.
The system is random and depends on luck
That’s why I’m so passionate about it. And even though the Swiss education system works, it’s still so random and you have to be kind of lucky in order to get good teachers. Teachers have such a huge influence. I was always lucky, I was fortunate I had great teachers all through my school years. I had teachers who were fair but still tough and I had teachers who saw talents and also gave me extra work in areas where I had an easy time following the lectures.
How I think the education system could be improved
First of all, I’m not saying I have the solution, I’m not claiming to know how it is but I think it’s very interesting for all of us to think about this because education is such a big equalizer. And I think if we can make the world more equal and fairer, there’s going to be less harm and there’s going to be less bad feelings and fewer conflicts. So I think it’s worth spending time on this and I hope that technology like DFINITY or other blockchain-based infrastructure can help provide a better education system.
Recycle world-class content
I think what doesn’t make sense is that we’re still leaving content in the hands of each and every individual teacher. Content is there, there’s no reason for us to invent yet another math course. There are online courses that have been viewed by millions and millions of people. They’ve been reviewed, they’ve been refined over the years.
So there’s just no need to create yet another course and for every teacher to go through that material and try to find out what’s the best way to prepare this and choose the right topics. I think there are different types of learners, different types of personalities and different types of humans who all learn differently. I think there’s a ton of courses out there that are great and there’s something out there for everyone. Content and form should be separated.
Content as I just mentioned is what is it that we’re going to learn? What is the truth, what are the facts? And I think that’s something that we don’t need to go back to over and over again because it’s there. We can take online courses that exist or math platforms or history books and whatnot. All that is there, it’s fairly cheap compared to having someone individually prepare for 20 kids.
Community-based education form
Form is much more interesting and where I have less of an answer on how to do it. But I think to me it just doesn’t make sense that we give young adults the idea that they are going to learn from age 4 or 5 up and up until the age of 18. And then they’re not going to learn anymore and they’re just going to work. It should all be about lifelong learning and teaching.
I think learning becomes so much more fun once you realize that you can also teach others. And it forces you to really understand things to a degree where you can formulate them in your own words and pass them off to someone else. And I’ve always really valued that Experience – being able to learn something, process it and pass it on to someone else. I think it’s extremely satisfying. I think that’s the first step where you realize you can do something with what you’ve just learned.
So I think form should be improved. And it should be improved in a way where it doesn’t require special teachers or it’s dependent on school infrastructure to be effective. Because ultimately we want to bring this education system to anywhere in the world. Even if it’s rural Africa or India or any other country where the school system is not as developed.
Let learners be teachers
So number one for me is we should give people a way to not only be learners but also be teachers. And I think for that we need some sort of a community setup. I don’t have the exact answer but I think my thoughts are somewhere along the lines of this:
You would enter a community. We all have friends, right? I think that’s great, there’s also a big social factor of going to school nowadays. You meet other people that are your same age. The only problem is right now you only meet people that are the same age.
We all know this from personal experience. Kids – sometimes there are some that are exactly at this age, and there are others that will better get along with kids a few years older or younger. So I think mixing that up will extremely help make kids happier and allow them to go to school in a brighter mood.
Why don’t we create these communities and let’s say we keep the ages similar. So you start somewhere between age four and seven, you want to start working somewhere between age sixteen and twenty.
Let’s say we get together – the older guys teach the younger guys. So if you’re just 4-5-6 years old, you come there and you profit from the older ones having prepared courses for you and you learn from them. There could be some adult supervision. Ideally, I think it will not be “adult” adults which are 30-45-50-60 years old, but it would be those 16-17-18 year-olds that are kind of at the end of their school process. They’re about to leave that community and those are the ones governing.
Then there’s another thing that I think should find a way into school systems. Learning should be a lot more practical. For me, even though I like theory and I like math and the abstract parts of physics, it’s just so much more fun seeing stuff in the real world and seeing what impact it has once you understand what happens if you mix A, B, and C together.
I think a lot of the school examples that I went through were a bit too theoretical like the one that I just made up. Who’s interested in that? But what we saw at the Green School is that when they teach biology, they actually build a fish pond that then focuses on sustainability. So the plants that grow on top of the fish pond, they profit from whatever the fish produce – carbon dioxide. The fish eat from what the plants produce. So they kind of create this equilibrium where fish and plants get along and I think that’s something extremely powerful for kids to see. And not just for kids, even for me, that’s extremely powerful. I think just seeing how the world works and being able to take control and build stuff and create stuff – it’s just such a satisfying experience.
Where does blockchain come in?
You’ve got to keep track of qualifications and tests and what courses someone has done, right? And right now, it’s extremely easy for me to say I’ve done a certain online course.
I think why we still are stuck with the existing school system is because we trust that all teachers in Switzerland or to an extent in the world, they all do a good job at going through tests or putting you through tests and then they have a fairly good idea of what mark 5, 6 or 1 or 2 or whatever means. And it’s kind of standardized and that’s why we trust it and that’s why we don’t trust an online course yet. Maybe I’ve hacked it, maybe someone else did it, maybe I found the solution somewhere and cheated my way through the test. And I do understand the concerns.
So what if we keep using the fact that people are very good at assessing other people. And we have this community set up. The elders or the older ones, they could be the ones running the tests for the younger ones.
Now, whether that test is going to be once a year or once a semester, every month or weekly – I think there are a lot of ways to improve that. But let’s say the older ones come up with tests and this could even be verbal. I think verbal tests are a great tool, especially to assess the knowledge and see how people develop and what their skills are.
If those people have some disability, there are a lot of people that just don’t do well with writing and reading, but they’re extremely smart and they should have the same qualifications or we should see them with the same qualifications as someone that has additional writing skills, right?
Trust vectors and an identity on the blockchain
I think everyone needs an identity on the blockchain in order to have a resume afterward. Let’s say you’ve gone through a certain course – basic math or German history. Others are going to test you and you’re going to get your grade. And then everyone who sees that grade, let’s say your class and the guys that are teaching you this stuff and run the tests, they all link to your profile and say “this grade is valid”.
Now, because these groups are dynamic, I don’t think you’ll ever have the same 20 people just helping each other game the system. I think that there will be network effects that are larger than that and you also probably learn history with other guys than math because maybe in math you’re further ahead and you learn with people who are on average older than you are.
So there’s this mixed group of, we could call them “validators”. But this could be school or qualification validators. They basically confirm that you’ve reached a certain level in a certain field.
So now you have all these trust vectors or all these validation vectors pointing to you and you have a bunch of trust vectors pointing to others where you’ve assessed they’re grade.
Alright, not to make this any longer than it already is, I think I just want to get feedback. This is by no means a finished solution but let me quickly summarize what I’m thinking about.
The school system is broken
So I think the current school system is a bit broken. A) it’s so random and B) we just don’t do a good job at offering everyone in the world easy access to education. And I think it’s one of the biggest equalizers in the 21st century.
We need to make education available to everyone and we need to make sure we accept the education systems that we provide them with as equally trustworthy as our traditional school system.
Separate content and form
So a way that that could work, in my opinion, is by separating content and form. Content can be all the millions or the thousands of online classes that exist. There are different courses for any type of learners so let’s use that content, let’s refine it, let’s give feedback to those who created it so they can make it even better and use that across the world to teach.
Second, much more interesting and where the blockchain comes in is form. A community-lead system could work very well because it’s also scalable and it can work in rural Africa and India as well as it can work in downtown Zurich or San Francisco. And it’s where people get together and they learn together and they teach together.
And last but not least, we introduced the concept of trust vectors. So the older ones or whoever taught you a certain subject, they test you; they plus your peers who learned with you give you a trust vector and confirm that you got a certain grade. And DFINITY could really help scale this infrastructure.
I’m really curious about the questions that you guys have, the holes do you guys see. Again, by no means I think this is complete, I just wanted to share my current state of mind in regards to how education systems could make use of blockchain. I wanted to share that with you. Please leave comments and I’m looking forward to talking to you soon. Cheers!
You can listen to the audio version here: