Education for the future: Institute of Blockchain Singapore

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In a survey of 11 countries by HSBC, 2017, 59% of respondents had not even heard of Blockchain technology and 80% did not understand what the technology is. Given this lack of information, it is no surprise that we hear cases where people equate bitcoin with cryptocurrencies, transfer tokens to the wrong wallet and invest in ICOs solely to avoid missing out.

The answer to this is more education in the Blockchain space and I had the pleasure of speaking with Mr Alvin Chua, President of the Institute of Blockchain Singapore to find out more.

Before starting the Institute of Blockchain Singapore, Mr Chua founded the Resx Corporation to provide corporate training and education consultancy. At the same time, he started to trade in cryptocurrencies and saw that many traders lacked understanding on the technology that they were investing in; causing them to make many rookie mistakes. To help the public better understand the technology, Mr Chua started giving free courses on Blockchain through his corporate training firm. His classes were often overbooked and many had to be placed on the waiting list. Seeing this massive demand and seeking to establish a dedicated Blockchain school that provides the whole suite of support that traditional schools provide to students, he started the Institute of Blockchain Singapore. Through this, he hopes to provide structured Blockchain training, through both physical and virtual classes to equip individuals with the skills and knowledge to engage meaningfully with this new technology and have recognised certificates to prove their capabilities.

The Institute of Blockchain Singapore is currently supported by Skills Future and NTUC’s e2i, therefore allowing students to enjoy generous subsidies.

Trends in the region

With Blockchain gaining ground, Mr Chua sees increased competition in the Blockchain education space. For example, new Blockchain schools are springing up and these schools are launching Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) that provide access to vast amounts of funds. For example Academy Token; also a Blockchain school, raised almost $45 million in their private presale (PR Newswire, 2018) and is aiming to raise another $5 million in their crowdsale (Academy Token, 2018). Positioning themselves as a neutral educator that can discuss Blockchain use cases without bias, Mr Chua says that the Institute of Blockchain Singapore will not be launching their own ICO and thus will need to find alternate sources of funding to compete.

Mr Chua also sees that Blockchain education in Asia is rising. For example Vietnam’s Infinity Blockchain Labs; had already started providing Blockchain courses in early 2017 in the top 7 Vietnamese Universities and some of their courses such as the one in Bach Khao University go as far as to pioneer Blockchain certificates to revolutionize agriculture (Blockchainlabs, 2017). Singapore has also been keeping pace, with SUSS having started Blockchain courses as early as 2016 and since 2017, NUS has been collaborating with the IBM Center for Blockchain Innovation (ICBI) to develop a fin-tech module which will focus on Blockchain and distributed ledger technologies (NUS, 2017). Still, there is much room for growth in Blockchain education and Mr Chua has received many invitations especially from China and Malaysia to conduct courses as many places in those countries do not yet have any entities providing dedicated Blockchain education.

E-learning is also set to take more classrooms online. A report by Orbis Research found that in 2015, the global e-learning market was worth $165.21 billion and by 2022, is expected to reach $275.10 billion; growing at a CAGR of 7.5% (Reuters, 2017). Additionally, a Global Shaper survey of 25,000 young people all over the world, found that 77.84% of respondents had taken an online course and almost half would be willing to take a skills certification including an online certification (World Economic Forum, 2016).

Riding on the trends

Amidst the growing interest in Blockchain and tandem competitors entering the space, Mr Chua says that it is crucial for the Institute of Blockchain Singapore to form strong partnerships to safeguard their position as the preeminent Blockchain School in the region. To achieve this, he has been actively seeking to piggyback on other organisations that are also looking to offer Blockchain education to their stakeholders. For example, he has partnered with SUSS and PSB Academy which provide venues for the Institute of Blockchain Singapore at no cost, thus enabling students to benefit from significantly lower class fees. In addition, Mr Chua sees that e2i is an exceptionally valuable partner as e2i’s ULEAP platform for mobile bite-sized learning is an excellent host for online lessons by the Institute of Blockchain Singapore.

As more classes are taken online, more platforms like ULEAP will emerge which will enable quality schools to reach a greater audience. Currently, Mr Chua and his team have to fly over whenever they receive an invitation to serve students in another country. With online learning, their reach will be limited only by their ability to generate international demand for their courses.

Mr Chua also seeks to leverage the Singapore brand name to differentiate his company from regional competitors. Singapore tops the 2015 PISA rankings in maths and science (BBC, 2016) and is the 14th best student city in the world (Top Universities, 2017). Given this stellar performance, Singapore has established herself as the undisputed education hub in the region. Seeking to harness and also expand the Singapore brand name, Mr Chua sought approval from the Ministry of Education from the onset for his school’s curriculum. In addition, the Institute of Blockchain Singapore is also supported by Skills Future and is in the midst of obtaining WSQ certification. Given the rigour of obtaining these, the Institute of Blockchain Singapore can reliably assure students of their credibility, since the journey to obtain approval would have plugged any gaps in the curriculum.

Teaching quality will also be a key factor in differentiating themselves. Students who take the initiative to attend private lessons are looking to be equipped with meaningful knowledge and skills which they can apply to themselves and also the organisations that they work for. Therefore Mr Chua has a requirement that teachers need to be Blockchain industry veterans themselves. In his team of teachers, one is a solidity coder with extensive experience with smart contracts and another is a NUS computer science lecturer.

Challenges

Given that his students come from all over the world, Mr Chua has been working with them to expand his company beyond Singapore. In doing so, a key barrier he faces is the language difference. For example, when he conducts lessons in China, he needs to teach in mandarin which is a challenge even though he is fluent in the language. This is because in his experience with Blockchain, almost all of the terms are in English and may not be readily translatable. To overcome this, he has been compiling a dictionary of “block terms” to serve as a guide for non-english speakers to interact with Blockchain.

Uncertainty with regulations is also another challenge when expanding overseas. The Institute of Blockchain Singapore offers a structured comprehensive curriculum, part of which gives extensive training in utilising cryptocurrency as a financial instrument, both for personal investment and as a financing tool for companies. Therefore interest and the practicality of their classes hinge on the regulatory stance on cryptocurrencies. However, regulators are still grappling with the technology’s place in the economy and society, which leads to many announcements and statements proposing either to liberalise or clamp down, each time causing wild fluctuations in prices and also people’s confidence in trading (Forbes, 2018). Naturally, Mr Chua says that this regulatory uncertainty poses a planning headache for Blockchain educators seeking to expand into new markets.

Enabling growth

To continue growing the Institute of Blockchain Singapore, Mr Chua has applied for the Startup SG Founder and has sought Trive Ventures as their Accredited Mentor Partner. He said that Trive Ventures has their own education arm and praised Trive Ventures as being supportive of the efforts of Blockchain schools like his to educate the public about this new technology. While funds from the Startup SG Founder take a relatively long time to be disbursed to applicants, Mr Chua says that such grants give Blockchain educators a growth boost and more grants like this should be made available.

Of the Singaporean universities, Mr Chua identified SUSS as being a key ally for Blockchain entrepreneurs. In particular, SUSS has partnered with the cloud computing giant; Alibaba Cloud, to promote entrepreneurship through an entrepreneurship certification program. Through this program, participants are given the opportunity to pitch to investors brought together by SUSS and Alibaba cloud in addition to receiving mentorship by Alibaba executives and other C-level industry experts (SUSS, 2018). In addition SUSS has been actively promoting inclusivity for Blockchain and on April 17 & 18 held the Global Inclusive Blockchain Conference; the first blockchain conference conducted in both Mandarin and English (PR Newswire Asia, 2018).

Call to Singaporean companies

Blockchain has the potential to revolutionise every industry in the world, but given how new the technology is, we need more knowledgeable experts who understand the technology to contribute to the public discourse on the place that Blockchain should have in society and the economy. Therefore the importance of Blockchain educators like Mr Chua will continue to grow as we progress deeper into the fourth industrial revolution.

*Edit: Tri 5 Ventures has been renamed to Trive

References

Academy Token. (2018). Academy School of Blockchain. [online] Available at: https://www.academytoken.com/ [Accessed 1 May 2018].

AsiaOne. (2018). SUSS organises first bilingual conference in inclusive Blockchain. [online] Available at: http://www.asiaone.com/business/suss-organises-first-bilingual-conference-in-inclusive-Blockchain [Accessed 3 May 2018].

BBC News. (2016). Singapore first place in school rankings. [online] Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/education-38212070 [Accessed 3 May 2018].

Blockchainlabs. (2017). IBL Launches First University Lab To Support Blockchain Courses Infinity Blockchain Labs. [online] Available at: https://www.Blockchainlabs.asia/news/ibl-launches-first-university-lab-support-Blockchain-courses/ [Accessed 1 May 2018].

Forbes. (2018). Bitcoin Stuck Below $7,000 As Crypto Struggles With Headwinds. [online] Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cbovaird/2018/04/05/bitcoin-stuck-below-7000-as-crypto-struggles-with-headwinds/#164190014574 [Accessed 3 May 2018].

HSBC. (2017). Rise of the technophobe – education key to tech adoption, says HSBC. [online] Available at: http://www.hsbc.com/news-and-insight/media-resources/media-releases/2017/rise-of-the-technophobe-education-key-to-tech-adoption-says-hsbc [Accessed 1 May 2018].

NUS. (2017). NUS Computing – NUS Computing and IBM Singapore collaborate to promote FinTech and Blockchain training in Singapore. [online] Available at: http://www.comp.nus.edu.sg/news/2049-2017-nus-computing-ibm-singapore-collaborate-pressrelease/ [Accessed 1 May 2018].

PR Newswire. (2018). ACADEMY TOKEN: A Crowdsale to Ensure the Future of Blockchain. [online] Available at: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/academy-token-a-crowdsale-to-ensure-the-future-of-Blockchain-300615218.html [Accessed 1 May 2018].

Reuters. (2017). Global E-Learning Market 2017 to Boom $275.10 Billion Value by 2022 at a CAGR of 7.5% – Orbis Research – Reuters. [online] Available at: https://www.reuters.com/brandfeatures/venture-capital/article?id=11353 [Accessed 3 May 2018].

Startup SG. (2017). StartupSG Founder | Startup SG. [online] Available at: http://www.startupsg.net/startupsg-founder/ [Accessed 3 May 2018].

SUSS. (2018). Alibaba Cloud – SUSS Entrepreneurship Certificate/Minor. [online] Available at: http://www.suss.edu.sg/Partnership/Entrepreneurship/Pages/Alibaba-Cloud-SUSS-Entrepreneurship-Certificate-Minor.aspx [Accessed 3 May 2018].

Top Universities. (2017). QS Best Student Cities 2017. [online] Available at: https://www.topuniversities.com/city-rankings/2017 [Accessed 3 May 2018].

TRi5 Ventures. (2017). About Us – TRi5 Ventures. [online] Available at: http://tri5.asia/about-us/ [Accessed 3 May 2018].

World Economic Forum. (2016). Is online learning the future of education?. [online] Available at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/09/is-online-learning-the-future-of-education/ [Accessed 3 May 2018].

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