Education fraud is a worrying trend in Singapore. High-profile cases of lawyers, lecturers, or engineers caught with fake credentials pop up on a semi-regular basis.

Starting this year, Singapore-based graduates will receive digital certificates that are tamper-proof and easily verified on a blockchain-powered platform. This is the first time that blockchain technology has been harnessed on a national level.

The project was born out of a collaboration between GovTech Agency and Ngee Ann Polytechnic, the latter of which ran a small trial in 2017. GovInsider speaks to Steven Koh, Director of Government Digital Services at the GovTech Agency, and Patrice Choong, Director of Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s (NP) innovation office, on how it has snowballed into a national initiative.

Secure and tamper-proof digital certs

This platform is one answer to eliminating education fraud, allowing employers to quickly check the authenticity of qualifications. Between 2016 and 2018, the Ministry of Manpower found that 33 foreigners had submitted forged certificates in their employment pass applications, The New Paper reports.

The government worked closely with NP to trial and scale up this blockchain-powered solution. In early May, the education minister announced the launch of OpenCerts, which 18 education institutes and government agencies are now using. “OpenCerts allows educational institutions to issue tamper-proof digital academic certificates that can be verified against fingerprints on the Ethereum public blockchain,” Steven Koh, Director of Government Digital Services at the GovTech Agency, tells GovInsider.

Organisations in other industries have expressed interest in adapting the OpenCerts solution for different purposes. This could be issuing legal or doctors’ licences, NP’s Choong says. Halal certificates could be another option, as these are easily forged.

The implication for government services could be huge. “This method can be potentially adopted for other credentials such as marriage certificates, birth and death certificates, bill of ladings and so forth,” GovTech’s Koh says. This shows it is “feasible” to use blockchain for secure government services, he believes.

NP first set out to see if they could issue, verify, revoke, and store digital certificates on the Blockchain, in a trial that involved 500 business management students. Back then, the intent was to cut manual tasks and improve productivity, Choong previously told GovInsider.

But as the project grew and attracted attention, “we repainted the vision so that the benefit will be convenience for citizens, students and employers, with one platform to access all their certificates”, NP’s Choong explains. “There were already a lot of interested IHLs (Institutes of Higher Learning) wanting to pilot, so the timing was good in this case.”

“Now with the revamped GovTech solution, we can issue 7,000 certificates in under two minutes.”
In the early days, there were challenges. Blockchain was not “very scalable”, says Choong. GovTech Agency helped to fix the scaleability issue, and develop a single standard and platform for all education institutes to use. “Now with the revamped GovTech solution, we can issue 7,000 certificates in under two minutes.”

SkillsFuture Singapore, an agency for reskilling and upskilling Singaporeans, then came on board to lead this national initiative, and the Ministry of Education pledged its support, he continues.

Beware AI no more

Choong’s next big thing in the pipeline is JobPlus, which he hopes will be the answer to fears that people have around Artificial Intelligence taking over their jobs. This initiative will help workers use AI and data to make work more efficient and “enable organisations to lead transformation”, he explains.

“A lot of companies send their staff to learn about AI and data, but when they come back to the workplace, they still do their jobs as per usual,” Choong remarks. “The application of what they have learned on to their job is very hard to make.”

The initiative will plug the gap through “a combination of trainings and consultancy”, he continues. “We will look at the job scope, the tasks, and breaking them down to see which one can be automated, or use data tools for example – we work through the journey with them.”

A couple of companies have shown interest in the programme, and Choong’s team is currently designing training materials and building consultancy models using tools and software already available online. He hopes to have some case studies by the end of the year.

The next step is to document these explorations with video. Here, Choong wants to “create positive stories on how AI is improving jobs, instead of being a fear factor”, and share them with a wider audience, he concludes.

The OpenCerts case study is a fascinating example of government and an education institute coming together to develop solutions – especially as these two entities are usually far removed. Public services of the future could be collaborations like this one, trialled quickly and scaled up to help improve citizens’ lives.