Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Maltese Badges

From Malta Today:

Malta is the first country to launch a blockchain initiative which will see it issue notarised blockchain certificates to complement paper certificates for professional and informal education, the government announced today.

Because you had no idea where Malta is, did you.

Malta is teaming up with Learning Machine, a group we've heard about before. Learning Machine has some big ideas about turning out educated people like you manufacture toasters, or "decoupling" education from any sort of institution, and of creating a whole new credentialling system. That blockchain concept they talk about is the same idea behind bitcoins, the digitized currency that was going to totally do away with money.

Here are some of the things that Natalie Smolenski, "Cultural Anthropologist & Dedicated Account Manager at Learning Machine," had to say to explain the high concept here.

Because skills are only meaningful in social context, any given classification of skill is a provisional judgment of pragmatic value within an economy in which such values can be productively leveraged and exchanged. Moreover, because the kind of skill that credentials record is at root a unit of value that has been conferred to a particular individual or entity by another, it can be recorded in any ledger that records transactions of values.

Your value as a meat widget will be determined by how valuable someone else says your skill set is.

Not only will the shift toward a standardized, competency-based credentialing system allow us to address the social question of what constitutes skill with some consistency and reliability, but it will also decouple credentials from any particular institutional arrangement, in particular the over-reliance on university degrees as arbiters of skill.

In this brave new world, we will standardize everything, including what a particular skill is or means, and we'll never need schools again. You just log on, watch some video, take a test. Boom-- badge!

Everyone will have standardized credentials that follow them around digitally, and employers and managers will never actually have to deal with other humans face to face again. We'll just be able to open a file, look at your list of badges, and no exactly what work you are capable of. Human resource departments will be able to shop for the exact employees they want like a meat widget, because of course every skill set in human experience can be reduced to a set of simple standardized badges.

It's a scheme that is so insanely at odds with how human beings actually function that you may find it hard to believe that it's popular among a certain class of people (exactly the kind of big, important people who would never agree that their own special skill sets can be reduced to some competency-based standardized badges). Here's one company's version of it called the ledger. Lumina is working on it (in fact, one of the big practical problems of blockchain CBE is going to be a VHS vs. Betamax problem of which company will dominate the field, because this only really works if everyone is in the same system). This is out there, and while I would like to believe that it will collapse under the weight of its own foolish disregard for how human beings live, learn and work, it is exactly the sort of thing that the Captains of Industry would love to forcibly impose on the plebes.

And now they have an entire nation as a proof of concept test. True, a small nation, but still-- a nation has ceded their education system to this corporate scheme. The European Union is watching how Malta manages to place education credentials in the blockchain, for full access and portability. The Netherlands and Estonia are exploring this stuff.  Certificates are expected to be issued by the end of the year.

“Blockchain gives us the opportunity to ensure that every Maltese citizen take ownership of their educational credentials,”said the education ministry, which highlights another aspect of this version of CBE-- idoesn't just privatize education, but it gets government completely out of the education work altogether. Congratulations, citizen-- your education is now your problem, and yours alone.

Three Maltese colleges – the Malta College for Art, Science and Technology (MCAST), the Institute for Tourism Studies (ITS) and the National Commission for Further and Higher Education (NCFHE) –wil be granting certificates based on the new CBE system. I hope everyone at those institutions is polishing their resume, because they will soon be unnecessary.

Of course, this could fail spectacularly and Learning Machine will slink away in ruined disgrace and oh, who am I kidding-- there is too much money to be made here in this wholesale depersonalization of education. Whatever happens, they will spin this as a win. Pay attention-- this is not the end of this.


  1. Have you seen the new Unilever hiring practices? Gamification, AI interviews plus I'm sure the "LinkedIn" type profile they reference will ultimately be a blockchain type ledger account.

  2. The flaw is here the belief that education is primarily about skills.

    Plato understood this 2500 years ago. To Plato, education was the path to justice, both internally and externally. Internal justice is obtained when each man develops his powers of mind to the fullest.

    Noah Webster understood it 200 years ago: "Education is the bringing up, as of a child, instruction; formation of manners. It comprehends all that instruction and discipline to enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, and form the manners and habits of youth, and fit them for usefulness in their future stations."

    In short -- it ain't about skills.

    Education is instilling virtues, and creating habits (both of mind and body.) We have a limited window to obtain these habits and virtues, since most of our personality is set by age 10 or so. The passing of knowledge and skills comes later, and is made much easier if the student has acquired those aforementioned "habits of mind".

    It would be really funny if Malta will issues blockchain certifications in Platonic philosophy.

  3. I agree with Plato; I'm not sure I agree with the rest of what you say. Controlling your temper and forming manners and habits could be considered types of skills. I don't agree that most of the personality is set by age 10; we may have different definitions of what personality is. Reading comprehension and forming letters I would say are skills, and are normally learned before the age of 10.

    1. Well, there are discrete skills, like "decoding C-V-C words," and there are more overarching skills, like reading comprehension. SEL can be (and often is) considered in terms of discrete skills - impulse control, perseverance, "grit," and so on - but is probably more accurately described as something that's hardwired that we need to optimize and use NON-discretely, the ways humans actually learn & work best.

      (Some) jobs may be comprised of discrete skills, but real-life stuff, that's way more holistic.

    2. The people in Malta seem determined to break education into little tiny packages that we can certify a person knows how to do. They want to make you into a cog who can perform some function, and they think the purpose of education is to produce more cogs.

      But education is supposed to teach me how to think (not what to think... how to think.) This skill is the most important, and belies easy measurement. It matters for colleges. It matters for employers. Most importantly, it matters for my ability to participate in civil society.

      Plato would likely say: if I can't think through complex ideas, I will always be a slave, either to my own passions (internal) or to the will of others (external). It is through education that we attain freedom from both forms of slavery. Job skills are a distant 2nd or 3rd.

    3. So Brian can we assume then that you oppose so-called the "personalized" learning or "competency based learning" which is being pushed in this country which consists of computerized modules followed by a test, which each student can take at his/her own pace? Because that's a very large component of the education "reform" movement that you otherwise seem to support.

  4. What a bunch of bullsh*t. Obviously the people who dream this stuff up only understand numbers, not people.

    My favorite line: that the people who like this are "exactly the kind of big, important people who would never agree that their own special skill sets can be reduced to some competency-based standardized badges".

  5. Malta is a member of the EU so I assume many students/prospective students are fleeing in a generally northward direction.