Digital Colonialism: South Africa Puts Preschoolers on the Blockchain

With the debut of their Blockchain transcript, Southern New Hampshire University’s “College for America” and Learning Machine are in the vanguard of innovative digital credentialing for adults. At the other end of the “lifelong learning” spectrum, Trustlab’s IXO Foundation has staked out the early childhood space with a Blockchain DApp called Amply. Amply, an online attendance-taking system designed to track “impact,” is being piloted through SmartStart a South Africa pre-school franchise.

This proof of concept, financed in part through UNICEF’s innovation venture capital fund, had registered over 3,100 students across 85 centers as of spring 2018. Innovation Edge, a South Africa based social impact investment portfolio manager specializing in ed-tech, IoT health, and early childhood education, is another Amply funder. Remember Ready Nation’s Global Business Summit on Early Childhood? The one coming up in New York this November that I blogged about here? The one where early childhood educators and policy advocates were specifically EXCLUDED unless they came with a vetted group of four business people? Well, Cynthia McCaffrey, director of UNICEF’s office of global innovation will be speaking at that event, and Innovation Edge is listed as a sponsor.

While at first glance Amply may look like many other smartphone apps, there’s a lot going on beneath the surface. In South Africa the government reimburses preschool providers based on the number of children attending school each day. With Amply, providers take attendance digitally rather than on paper. Proponents of the app say the old-fashioned approach is inconvenient and lacks “trust.” The tone they use when talking about this lack of “trust” in the development aid space is steeped in a racist, colonial mindset. The “trust” issue provides cover for their real agenda. Pen and paper methods don’t capture enough data, and digitized data is what they most desire.

A blog post from the Amply website describes the importance of the meta-data captured by the app, which ensures that the information collected on each child is both “high-fidelity” and trustworthy. In order for Amply to work, a Blockchain identity must be created for each child. Because all the data is tied back to an authenticated identity, “Valuable derivative data assets, such as risk scores, can be derived from this personal information, to benefit the individual and generate population-based data analysis to benefit ECD (early childhood development) programmes.”

Take a moment and re-read that last sentence. In South Africa they are using a school-based app to track, monitor, and generate risk scores for low-income black toddlers. Decentralised Digital Identity, which I wrote about here, is central to this enterprise. All of the data flows must be channeled into an individual’s Blockchain “ledger,” using a system of public keys.

The protocol uses something known as a “smart contract,” which is the translation of a legal contract into computer code that runs on the Ethereum Blockchain. This profile of Amply on github goes into detail about how it works. In short, the Amply app captures meta-data via the smartphone that verifies a claim that a particular child attended school on a given day. The fact that someone checks the box that they “attended” is sufficient “proof” for investors that said child was “educated.” Once an attendance claim is verified on Blockchain, an impact token is created. This token represents financial value for the provider and is transferred to the school’s online digital wallet where it can be exchanged for payment. Each school is also required to have a digital identity linked to their digital wallet. Analytics can be applied to the attendance transactions to assess the “impact” of pre-k services on the population being served and this data is used to evaluate returns for social impact investors.

IXO Foundation describes itself as an open-source development foundation working to create data infrastructure for the impact economy. The foundation employs Blockchain to generate digital assets from what they call “crypto-economic proof of impact.” This process is manifested when a Cape Town pre-k teacher scrolls through a student list, checks a box next to a child’s name, and in doing so generates value for those investing in education outcomes for poor children as defined by industry-determined metrics.

I first learned about IXO Foundation while watching the October 2017 World Bank Group-BTA (Blockchain Trust Accelerator) Summit, which was hosted in partnership with New America (see this link for New America’s funders, lots of tech and impact investors in the list). Shaun Conway, IXO’s president, was featured on a panel about using Blockchain for “social good.” Watch a clip of Conway speaking here.

IXO recently entered into a partnership with SocialSuite, a Melbourne, Australia-based enterprise that has worked in “evidence-based” program evaluation and is expanding into the area of smart contracts for social impact investments. SocialSuite was awarded $100,000 in seed funding from Salesforce Venture Capital this past March after they won a pitch competition. According to a company press release, CEO Brad Gurrie noted “Winning Salesforce PitchComp is another step in the momentum of the SocialSuite business. With the recent announcement of the IXO Foundation Partnership and winning Pitchcomp, there is significant interest from the industry on how SocialSuite can help non-profits, impact investors, and consultancies measure outcomes.” The company’s location is interesting given that Learning Machine is doing a Blockchain credential pilot in Melbourne, too.

A lengthy slide share describing the integration of IXO, Amply, and SocialSuite is viewable via this link.

In closing, I invite you to watch this brief two-and-a-half minute video in which you see the world through the eyes of IXO. Imagine yourself transformed into an impact investor who sees the world a merely a sea of ones and zeros, data to be compiled onto a dashboard and managed for speculative profit.

“To count what matters, we need high-definition data with crypto-economic proof of impact.”

“The IXO protocol ensures impact claims are verified with intelligent evaluation oracles.”

“Verified data is a valuable digital asset that is minted as an impact token.”


Important follow up post here.


4 thoughts on “Digital Colonialism: South Africa Puts Preschoolers on the Blockchain

  1. Kevin Ohlandt – Delaware – I am a proud parent of a son with Tourette's Syndrome and several other co-morbidities. I write on this blog to educate other parents so they know a bit more about not only special education, but all the really bad things that are happening with public schools in Delaware and the USA. We are all in this together, and if our children aren't able to advocate for themselves it's up to us parents! We need to stop letting companies run our schools, and demand our children get a proper education. Our Departments of Education in our states have become weak with fear from the bullying US DOE, and we need to take back our schools!
    Kevin Ohlandt says:

    Reblogged this on Exceptional Delaware and commented:
    Why do all these “innovative” programs always start with poor black children?

  2. howardat58 – Puerto Rico – Retired, moved to Puerto Rico 10 years ago, with an obsessional interest in the state of school math(s) !
    howardat58 says:

    “The IXO protocol ensures impact claims are verified with intelligent evaluation oracles.”

    As in Delphi ??????

    • wrenchinthegears
      wrenchinthegears says:

      “An oracle, in the context of blockchains and smart contracts, is an agent that finds and verifies real-world occurrences and submits this information to a blockchain to be used by smart contracts.

      Smart contracts contain value and only unlock that value if certain pre-defined conditions are met. When a particular value is reached, the smart contract changes its state and executes the programmatically predefined algorithms, automatically triggering an event on the blockchain. The primary task of oracles is to provide these values to the smart contract in a secure and trusted manner.

      Blockchains cannot access data outside their network. An oracle is a data feed – provided by third party service – designed for use in smart contracts on the blockchain. Oracles provide external data and trigger smart contract executions when pre-defined conditions meet. Such condition could be any data like weather temperature, successful payment, price fluctuations, etc.

      Oracles are part of multi-signature contracts where for example the original trustees sign a contract for future release of funds only if certain conditions are met. Before any funds get released an oracle has to sign the smart contract as well.”

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