IBM and Sony deliver blockchain for education

Yoshiki Minowa, Vice President, Partner - Cognitive Process Transformation, Global Business Services, IBM Japan
Yoshiki Minowa, Vice President, Partner – Cognitive Process Transformation, Global Business Services, IBM Japan

IBM has announced that it has helped Sony develop a blockchain solution for education. Sony Global Education will now sell the new blockchain-based student education records platform. It is designed to prevent fraud in educational awards and provide students with a learning history solution. The platform is built on IBM Blockchain using the Hyperledger Fabric.

According to Yoshiki Minowa, Vice President, Partner – Cognitive Process Transformation, Global Business Services, IBM Japan: “Blockchain offers a new approach to how the lifetime history of data related to a person, place or thing is shared and managed. In effect, data tracked on a blockchain becomes a single source of truth. We are delighted to have supported Sony Corporation and Sony Global Education to build up a new blockchain-based platform for innovations in education.

Why is blockchain needed for education?

There is a substantial amount of global fraud around educational awards. It is easy to buy a degree from any number of fake degree websites. There are many reasons why people go down this route. There is significant pressure in some parts of the world such as Asia for all children to earn a degree. This has led to widescale cheating on exams and put pressure on people to buy fake degrees and educational awards. Without them some are worried that they won’t get a job unless they appear to have a degree. Others rely on fake degrees to defeat immigration systems.

This solution from IBM and Sony aims to make it easy for employers to validate any claim of a degree. The students can always refer to the website when they need to prove their qualifications. It is hoped that this can begin to restore trust in the educational certification system.

This solution has another benefit for students. The idea that education stopped post-degree is now outdated. There is an increasing number of people doing continuous education often through online courses. Those courses provide the opportunity to advance a career but requires that students have a trusted education record.

Using a blockchain-based solution means that the data is also held securely. The individual can choose who they share the records with. In doing so they also reduce the risk of awards being used fraudulently by scammers or criminals carrying out identify theft.

The solution is due to launch in 2018 and it will be interesting to see who Sony Global Education signs up. At the moment there is no announcement of any university or educational awards body beta testing the solution. It may be that once the educational year gets underway in September, Sony Global Education will be able to give more details.

What does this mean?

The announcement comes just two weeks after SAP announced TrueRec for education. Like the Sony Global Education platform it also uses blockchain. SAP, however, has decided to build its solution using Ethereum. Having two solutions from different companies built on the two major blockchain platforms is important. It shows that there is an active competition out there to improve both underlying platforms. This is important as more and more companies look at the potential for blockchain across their business processes.

The two systems are currently aimed at different groups. The SAP solution is integrated into its HCM solution and is targeted at employers. Sony is much more focused on educational institutions and education awards bodies. The question is how does it get this into the enterprise space? It has no HCM product of its own. It might seek to do a deal with some of the HCM providers out there which would be interesting.

There is another question which is more complex. Will each Sony customer have their own private permissioned blockchain? If so, what does this mean for students? Will they need multiple blockchain IDs in order to track their learning and awards history? This would seem to be a clumsy solution. The answer may lie in the Interledger Protocol.

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