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Blockchain for Education: Emerging Opportunities in Urban Refugee Education

Tue, April 16, 1:30 to 3:00pm, Hyatt Regency, Floor: Bay (Level 1), Bayview B


Blockchain is an emerging technology that has been touted as the latest sustainable and viable solution to a lot of the world’s daily dealings (Dickerson, 2018; Grech & Camilleri, 2017). Blockchain is an incorruptible algorithm and distributed data structure that records transactions of virtually everything with value (Tapscott & Tapscott, 2016; Wilson, 2017).

The Harvard Business Review (2017) elaborates:
Blockchain is a foundational technology: It has the potential to create new foundations for our economic and social systems. But while the impact will be enormous, it will take decades for blockchain to seep into our economic and social infrastructure. The process of adoption will be gradual and steady, not sudden, as waves of technological and institutional change gain momentum.

Blockchain should be viewed as the second generation of the internet (Tapscott & Tapscott, 2017). From supply chain management to aid transparency, this growing technology is beginning to play a part in both the non-profit and humanitarian sectors (Dickerson, 2018). The Blockchain4SDGs Alliance, was formed in 2017 to provide solutions that contributed to the achievement of sustainable developing goals (Ghosh & Zhang, 2017). In July 2018, UN Secretary-General António Guterres announced the creation of a ‘High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation,’ which puts blockchain technology on the agenda (UN News, 2018).

The usage of blockchain in the humanitarian and non-profit sectors have yielded positive results. Since 2016, Microsoft in collaboration with Accenture have been working on a Global Digital ID tool for refugees which combines biometric data and blockchain, to create a permanent identity (Fortune, 2017). In May 2017, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) successfully sent aid to over 10,000 Syrian refugees by leveraging on blockchain technology (del Catillo, 2017). While in Jordan, UN Women applied blockchain mechanism to enhance the refugee work program (UN Women, 2018). Currently, the Climate Chain Coalition is using blockchain to strengthen the monitoring, reporting, and verification of climate action impacts (Forbes, 2018a).

In terms of education, more innovations are being seen in the private sectors. For example, Sony Global Education launched a platform that can secure and share student records. (Sony Global Education, 2018) and MIT Media Labs help create the Blockcerts tool which streamline verification procedures and reduce fraudulent claims of unearned educational credits (Forbes, 2018b).

According to UNHCR’s Global Trends report, at the end of 2017 the number of refugees and displaced people worldwide would had exceeded the 68 million mark with 58% living in urban areas. Half of the refugee and displaced population are children (UNICEF, 1994; UNHCR, 2016, 2017), who are particularly vulnerable and dependent on their adult caregivers.
Education has been identified as a vehicle to not only restore harmony and peace but also as a deterrence of violence. During difficult circumstances of displacement, education plays a critical role as it gives the child a sense of normalcy, structure and routine (INEE, 2010; IRC, 2006; Nicolai, 2003; Sinclair, 2001; Pigozzi, 1999; UNRWA, 2013), provides a platform to socialize and interact with their peers (Betancourt, 2005; IRC, 2006), presents an opportunity to engage in developmentally appropriate and meaningful activities (Betancourt, 2005; UNRWA, 2013) and assists the children in planning and adapting for the future (INEE, 2010; Nicolai, 2003; Pigozzi, 1999; UNRWA, 2013).
Based on a UNICEF study in 2013, worldwide approximately 25% of children under the age of five have no birth certificate or any type of official government registration. The usage of blockchain-based identity services, as demonstrated by UN Women and WFP cases, can assist in eliminating this problem. In the case of refugee children, this will allow them the potential of attending schools as it provides not only digital identity but record of the educational progress and achievement the child has.


The ecology of the refugee field in Malaysia is a rather complex one. First of all, Malaysia is neither a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention nor its 1967 Protocol. Malaysia is also not a party to the following international treaties, the 1954 and 1961 Statelessness Convention (UNHCR, 2016), the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless People, the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (UNICEF, 2015). Therefore, under the Malaysian Law there is no distinction between illegal immigrants, undocumented migrants and refugees. The lack of a legislative and policy framework for refugees contributes to the multitude of challenges and barriers for access to education for minors. Despite ratifying the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1995, Malaysia does not allow refugee children to attend government funded schools.
As of end August 2018, there are approximately 161,140 refugees and asylum-seekers registered with UNHCR in Malaysia (UNHCR MY, 2018a) and yet a large number remains unregistered or undocumented. Out of that figure, 42,620 comprises of children below the age of 18. Over 70% of the school going aged refugee children do not have access to education (UNHCR MY, 2018b). In October 2018, Deputy Education Minister Teo Nie Ching announced that stateless children in Malaysia will be allowed to attend government schools. However, not much has been elaborated regarding the plight of refugee children.

This project aims to investigate the feasibility, challenges, benefits and risks of blockchain technology in a non-formal education center in Malaysia, with a focus on the application of the blockchain technology as a mechanism that offer solutions towards sustainability.
According to Grech and Camilleri (2017), the application of blockchain in education is still relatively new but has been gaining momentum. In fact, there is very little peer-reviewed published literature in the area (Grech & Camilleri, 2017). There are several potential uses of blockchain technology in higher education setting which could revolutionized how lifelong learning and continuous professional development is handled (Clark, 2015; Tapscott &Tapscott, 2017). This research is necessary due to the gap in active scholarship regarding the application of blockchain technology in urban refugee education.


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