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Using Blockchain to Issue Academic Certificates in Singapore

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Employers face many challenges related to human resources, most notably attracting and acquiring good talents and competencies.
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Employers face many challenges related to human resources, most notably attracting and acquiring good talents and competencies. In a competitive business environment, hiring the right person with the required experience, knowledge, and skills can significantly affect the company's results and change the course of its growth.

When a company initiates the recruitment process, educational qualifications are often the main indicator of an employee's eligibility for a certain position. But in recent years, some people defrauded the system to gain employment by submitting fake credentials that exaggerate their competencies and hijack the hiring process to land jobs for which they may not be prepared or eligible. Moreover, the issue of forged academic certificates has been exacerbated in light of the current globalization, as cross-border verification of academic certificates can be cumbersome and expensive.

Trust may be the most important factor here, so how can employers trust that a potential candidate is honest and qualified as they claim to be? When it comes to proof of performance involving multiple entities located in different geographies, blockchain may be the right solution.

A blockchain is simply a tool for digitally recording transactions, be it between a buyer and a seller, or an educational institution and its graduates. No individual owns or maintains a public blockchain. Decentralization is applied to all participants who transact on this technology. This means that the records maintained cannot affect or harm any individual, or alter their information.

Based on these characteristics, the Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech) decided to leverage this technology to consolidate trust and build an ecosystem for academic certification. A special system, called OpenCerts, was developed to create digital representations of every academic certificate issued or to be issued, and publish them on the blockchain.

Once certificates are maintained on the Ethereum public ledger, they become permanent and immutable. Certificates are timestamped and each one is assigned a cryptographic signature that becomes invalid should any attempt be made to tamper with or modify its contents. To achieve this, the developers of this technology had to create libraries and open standards to publish the digital signature of the certificates.

As long as educational institutions follow this standard, they can publish academic certificates on the Ethereum blockchain. Once the certificate makes the public ledger, the institution is only required to pay the transaction fee since there's no need for infrastructure hosting. The developed code is also open source, and any institution from any country can use it without being locked by a special technology or standard.

However, how does this affect the way students obtain their certificates and transcripts? The digital representation of documents will be issued as a single JavaScript Object Notifier (JSON) file by educational institutions, as this file contains human-readable information on a student’s academic performance. Once the certificate is issued, the graduate becomes the owner of that file but cannot alter its content, a by doing so, the file's timestamp and cryptographic signature would be voided. However, this file can be freely sent to potential employers, as if it were a true copy of the original paper document.

The employer who receives the digital representation can check the validity of the file and compare it with the public ledger using the certificate store interface. At this stage, the system checks the cryptographic signature and timestamp to ensure that the file was not tampered with in any way. Moreover, in order to check the identity of the JSON file owner, an individual’s personal identification information, such as the name and identification number, could be tagged on the JSON file.

As for students, they will not have to change the way they interact with potential employers. On another note, this system supports educational institutions by reducing the time it takes to reissue and validate certificates.

Since OpenCerts is built on a public blockchain, it allows any educational institution to set up an account and upload certificates. This means that educational institutions claiming to be qualified to hand over higher education certificates but issue substandard or illegitimate academic certificates for profit can also benefit from this system to publish certificates onto the public ledger.

Ministries of education can intervene at this stage to establish a directory of accredited and prestigious educational institutions. This process is regulated by allocating one directory to each country and these directories are linked by governments to build a network of approved or blacklisted institutions across many countries.

The OpenCerts platform allows the addition of new features. For example, a mobile app can be developed to make it easier for graduates and employees to obtain, store, share, and validate academic certificates at any time. Furthermore, the OpenCerts platform is now available on GitHub for review and adoption by educational institutions from all around the world.



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