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New kids on the blockchain: an app teachers can count on


New kids on the blockchain: an app teachers can count on

Cape schools can now track attendance and academic progress and improve use of their state subsidy

Dan Meyer

For Veronica Nicholas, principal of an early learning centre in Cape Town, the chore of submitting attendance records in return for a government subsidy just became a lot easier.
And while centres like hers in Vrygrond near Muizenberg exist in some of the country’s most deprived communities, the solution to her quarterly bureaucratic nightmare comes from the cutting edge of technology: blockchain.
Blockchain is essentially a decentralised digital ledger that stores data in a trusted and verifiable way. Individuals own their data, which is safely stored and encrypted.
 iThemba is one of 80 Cape schools piloting a solution that allows teachers to track attendance and academic progress through a secure digital ledger, and improve the accountable use of the government subsidy of R15 per child per day.
Amply, an app developed by Cape Town start-up Trustlab, aims to minimise administrative work while collating “holistic and robust” data about the children who attend schools.
“Having up-to-the-minute data is very handy,” said Hendricks. “We know why we are using the app now and we’re getting used to the new system, making things a lot easier.”Early childhood development centres have to collate a paper-based register on a quarterly basis to claim subsidies. “It’s an extremely cumbersome process,” said Peter Hagen from True North, a group that supports principals.
Hendricks said iThemba was starting to understand how the app can make their lives easier, and while she still maintains paper-based administrative data, she is excited to be moving towards a digital solution.
“Getting the funding from government for the kids is crucial; we have to pay for their meals twice a day and many other expenses,” she said. “The technology is making that a lot easier to do.”
Amply project leader Joyce Zhang said that at its most basic level, Amply was an app for tracking attendance. “But the potential for the system to grow into a decentralised digital identity is something we are hoping to achieve.”
Blockchain technology is a concept that Trustlab operations manager Zach Levetan said left many people feeling excluded. But it had massive potential to help alleviate social issues.“When we hear about blockchain, or Bitcoin, it’s often in the context of someone trying to get rich quickly,” he said. “That’s not what we’re about.”
In particular, he said, Amply would help children who are denied access to basic services because they have not had their birth registered. And Trustlab hopes the technology will evolve into a digital identity card reflecting school performance and medical history, as well as operate as a mechanism for flagging potential abuse victims.
“This will be possible because the blockchain is compliant with universal Web 3.0 standards, meaning that the system is accountable and verifiable,” said Zhang.
“This opens up doors to use biometric features like iris scanners and fingerprint scanners, and it provides analytics about the children, which is something that is urgently needed.”
Penny Way, principal of Butterfly Way Educare in Vrygrond, said the system saved time and she hoped it would help give many children in her care an identity. “Many of the kids here are foreigners who don’t have any documents, no birth certificates even,” she said. “You’ve got to take them off the streets but they need these documents.”Trustlab launched in 2016 and received a $100,000 grant from Unicef to develop the technology. It has since outlined a vision to “accelerate results and improve the lives of the world’s most vulnerable children” through the delivery of data-driven projects.
It is exploring ways to introduce Amply in developing countries around the world. “Going from paper to blockchain is something that could really make a difference,” said Levetan.
“The people on the ground in these centres, they want to be part of the technological revolution too, they have a right to be involved.”

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