Since 1994, the South African government issued various policy documents and enacted laws for the needs of children that resulted in uncoordinated efforts by government agencies. In 2005, the government issued its National Integrated Plan for Early Childhood Development, which is the first national multi-sector plan for providing early childhood development (ECD) services. Several governmental departments will work together for the needs and rights of children, including coordinating services for birth registration, child and maternal health, nutrition, immunization, referral services for health and social services, water and sanitation, and early learning programs.
Since education is one of the primary factors that can help people escape poverty, funding towards ECDs has become crucial to the social-economic development of the country. This has led the South African government to fund preschool centers within impoverished communities.
However, the current funding systems are cumbersome, outdated, and time consuming as ECD providers often have to submit, on either a monthly or quarterly basis, drawn-out paper-based attendance reports to their local branch of the Department of Social Development in order to obtain their subsidies. The system is also plagued by lack of transparency, inaccuracies, and mistrust. These problems have led to a number of unfortunate situations, including ECD providers not obtaining access to payments; the government delaying payments; and people committing fraud. It’s errors like these that have caused the South African government to look to new solutions, such as blockchain technology, for a more secure and efficient way to manage data.
One company Project Amply, which is supported by the South African government and funded by UNICEF and Innovation Edge, seeks to transform modern early childhood development in Africa through its digital identity protocol that provides every child with a “self-sovereign identity.” The platform utilizes Ethereum blockchain technology for a more streamlined, accurate, and trustworthy system that the South African government can use to better accommodate ECD providers and other government subsidized entities. Payments can be automated through the use of executable distributed code contracts, which eliminate the possibility of delays or inaccessible payments. Data stored on blockchains are immutable, thus removing the possibility of fraud. Furthermore, according to Paul Kohlhaas, Project Amply’s project strategy and business development manager, “the data can be used for results tracking and impact measurement, planning, field research and personal records by various stakeholders with access rights.”
As Project Amply’s website explains: “This means that a child’s digital identity and personal data are privately owned and controlled by the individual (with some help from their guardians). Over time, their life records become a rich source of data and value that can be used to receive services and insights that will become more predictive, precise, personalised, preventive, and participatory.”
Initial tests with the platform began in March 2016 and the public alpha release began in November 2016. A first live release is expected for June 2017 that is expected to largely run on a private blockchain, with a full Dapp (distributed application) launch on the public network expected sometime between 2018 and 2019. Currently, the venture has registered over 2,000 children on the platform and seeks to eventually extend its services to countries outside of Africa. Kohlhaas tells ETHNews,
“The investment and close work with UNICEF will allow us to easily scale in several other African countries as well as South-East Asia. Here, we are looking at Kenya and Nigeria, which offer a sophisticated level of infrastructure and mobile penetration. Many countries in the developing world face similar issues regarding the accountability of public (and private) spending in early education and childcare services.”
He says that there are future plans to implement a token-based subsidy payment system that will act as a digital voucher that enables children within the system to attend school. This phase of the project is expected to begin testing in June 2017.
“Essentially, a government or corporate funder will purchase a token (or voucher) that allows a child to go to a pre-school for one day. The token is pegged to a fixed amount and purchased by a funder (in South Africa this is a $2 subsidy per child per day). The token is then transferred to the child’s account (or self-sovereign identity). Once the child attends a specific center the token is transferred from the child’s account to the centers account (or identity). At the end of the month the center can claim a fiat payment in accordance with the amount of tokens it has collected.”
This system will provide governmental and corporate funders with an audit trail that allows them to see exactly how funds were spent.
“There are several challenges that still need to be solved, specifically around the issue of fiat and token exchange. It is unlikely for instance, that these tokens will be publicly tradable. This will likely use a standard ERC-20 token contract.”
Project Amply’s efforts to modernize the South African ECD funding system will hopefully change the lives of children for the better.