Sep 18 , 2022

Federal education authorities have begun rolling out digital identification (ID) for students and teachers as part of a nationwide blockchain-based programme.

Nearly two dozen public schools have been chosen to participate, and data entry is set to begin next month, Zelalem Assefa (PhD), the Ministry’s head for ICT and digital education, disclosed.

The authorities signed a contract with the executives of Input Output HK Limited (IOHK), the developer of the Cardano blockchain platform, to provide five million students and 750,000 teachers working in 3,680 schools with digital ID cards. Incorporated in 2015, IOHK is a leading blockchain infrastructure research and engineering firm based in Singapore.

Officials hope to see half a million IDs issued by the end of this year.

The programme is part of the “digital foundations project” launched two years ago. The World Bank approved a 200 million dollar loan for the project implemented by the Ministry of Innovation & Technology. A national digital ID programme also falls under this project, which aspired to issue digital IDs to 10 million citizens this year. Less than 100,000 IDs have thus far been registered.

Abyot Qirs and Addis Ketema preparatory schools are among the educational institutions chosen to participate in the programme in Addis Abeba. According to Zelalem, their students will gradually be issued blockchain-verified digital IDs. The IDs come attached to a registry system that will be used to verify grades and monitor academic performance remotely.

Educational officials hope to see the programme keep better track of student records and reduce fraud.

“Academic dishonesty is rising at an alarming rate,” Zelalem concedes.

Academic dishonesty has become a severe concern in higher education. Officials at the Higher Education Relevance & Quality Authority identified no less than 15,000 fake certificates and diplomas last year.

The ID programme to be launched at the primary and secondary school levels will eventually expand to cover higher learning institutions, according to Zelalem.

“It’ll allow employers and the authorities to verify academic credentials,” he told Fortune.

Experts observe that digitizing the education system will not yield much impact without a reliable infrastructure. Mekbib Getaneh, general manager of Orange ICT Solutions Plc, a tech company that opened five years ago, urges the authorities to ensure internet and networking infrastructure support the digitization initiatives implemented in various sectors.

The Education Ministry has been experimenting with digitization since the launch of the national SchoolNet initiative in the late 1990s. Another project was launched a decade ago under the second edition of the Education Quality Improvement Programme with ICT intervention to improve learning environments.

ICT-related initiatives in education have taken off following the outbreak of COVID-19. A handful of tech firms began developing digital systems to help public school students to access educational resources online during the pandemic. Among them was Walia Technologies Plc.

Incorporated in 2016 with 10 million Br capital, Walia provides IT infrastructure solutions, including data centres, networking, and cabling. It also provides cloud technologies and cyber security services. The company has previously supplied cybersecurity systems to the Office of the Prime Minister and Awash International Bank.

Walia recently launched an education management system after receiving a green light from Education officials. Backed by enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, the system allows students and teachers to share course materials, upload documents, and submit assignments online. It also has a chat feature. The company charges schools 999 Br for each student as a subscription fee.

“The goal is to replace the paper-based learning process,” said Antyeneh Admasu, chief executive officer (CEO).

A community school under Gonder University in the Amhara Regional State is among the learning institutions adopting Walia’s system. Established in 2005, the community school enrols 2,000 students and has 110 academic staff.

“It’s better to embark on digitization early,” said Asrat Atsedeweyn (PhD), president of Gonder University. “It’s inevitable.”

PUBLISHED ON Sep 18,2022 [ VOL 23 , NO 1168]

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