Students graduating from local schools to receive ‘tamper-resistant’ digital certificates

Students graduating from local schools to receive ‘tamper-resistant’ digital certificates

The OpenCerts platform uses blockchain technology to provide students with an “easy and reliable way” to issue and validate tamper-resistant certificates.

From this year, graduates from local schools – including secondary schools, junior colleges and tertiary institutions – will receive digital certificates for the qualifications they obtain, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung announced on Friday (May 3).

SINGAPORE: From this year, graduates from local schools – including secondary schools, junior colleges and tertiary institutions – will receive digital certificates for the qualifications they obtain, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung announced on Friday (May 3).

This is part of a national-level initiative called OpenCerts, which was jointly developed by SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG), Government Technology Agency (GovTech), the Ministry of Education (MOE) and Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP).

OpenCerts is a blockchain-based platform that offers an “easy and reliable way” to issue and validate certificates that are tamper-resistant, according to a joint media release issued by SSG, GovTech and NP. This is the first time blockchain technology has been harnessed for use at the national level.

The change will benefit students graduating with N-, O- or A-Level certificates, those from the Institute of Technical Education, as well as those graduating from polytechnics, autonomous universities, LASALLE College of the Arts, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and the National Institute of Early Childhood Development. Those graduating with Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) will also receive a digital certificate.

Students graduating from these schools will receive digital certificates which will each have a unique cryptographic proof embedded for secure verification. They will receive it via email, and it will also be automatically added to the Skills Passports of their individual MySkillsFuture accounts.

Plans are also in the pipeline to create digital certificates for those who have already graduated from the participating schools.

OpenCerts Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) Ceremony with 18 institutions and agencies
OpenCerts Memorandum of Understanding signing ceremony on May 2, 2019. (Photo: Ngee Ann Polytechnic)

When students use these certificates for job applications or to apply for further studies at other institutions, employers or schools would be able to verify these digital certificates directly through the OpenCerts online platform, OpenCerts.io.

The change is expected to simplify and reduce administrative processes and physical paperwork for employers. Local schools will also save time and costs by not having to manually verify issued certificates from individuals.

A GOOD SOLUTION TO A REAL-WORLD PROBLEM

Speaking on Friday at Temasek Polytechnic’s graduation ceremony, Mr Ong described the initiative as a “tangible example” of the benefits of Singapore’s Smart Nation journey.

“With OpenCerts, we are harnessing the power of blockchain in a practical way,” he said. “It allows for any education institute to issue OpenCerts, and for anyone to quickly check the validity of a digital certificate.”

“This will in time make job application and hiring easier and smoother for both the applicant and the employer.”

As for students, Mr Ong noted that they would no longer need to “go through the hassle” of requesting for certified true copies of their certificates from their schools. Instead, they would be able to send potential employers their digital certificate together with the job application.

“Employers can immediately validate the digital diplomas received as genuine, because that is what blockchain offers - secure and immutable records,” he said.

“With OpenCerts, any unsavoury characters submitting forged certificates or degrees from Singapore institutions to try and get a job will be quickly found out and denied,” he added. “It is a good solution to a real-world problem.”

SOLVING A “PRODUCTIVITY ISSUE”

The project was first piloted last year by GovTech and NP, and the first batch of digital certificates was issued to NP’s graduating cohort last year.

Explaining why they embarked on the project, Director of NP’s Sandbox - Innovation and Entrepreneurship Office Patrice Choong said that issuing and verifying certificates was a “productivity issue” that they wanted to deal with.

On average, he said NP issues about 10,000 physical, certified-true copies of certificates every year, all of which have to be printed and stamped. They also receive about 2,000 verification requests from employers and other schools.

“This is manual work for us,” he said. “So this system removes two needs - the need for physical, certified-true copies, and the need for verification requests.”

At the Singapore University of Social Sciences, it can take at least three days to process a request for verification from start to finish, according to its registrar Agnes Kwang.

“This will really save us a lot of time,” she said. “It also helps us in the sense that we also need to recruit students and associates, so with this self-authentication, there will not be time wasted.”

She noted that the school currently has an online degree verification search portal, but will also come on board the national platform as it is “much more concerted and aligned”.

NP’s Mr Choong stressed that physical certificates will still be given out to students.  

“After spending three years in a polytechnic, the students want to have a ceremony where they go on stage and receive the certificate,” he said. “That has cultural and psychological value to the person who studied, and also their parents.

“It is a significant moment in a student’s life, and we have to keep that.”

Source: CNA/ic(mi)

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