Blockchain technology is at the heart of the virtual currencies, such as Bitcoin, that have won many investors’ hearts. More widely, blockchain is regarded as a technology that will revolutionize the electronic tracking of all transactions, and some Arab nations are taking steps toward embracing it. But Arab universities appear to have been slow on the uptake in teaching the technology’s basics.
The transparency, trust, speed and reliability the technology promises could have a transforming effect on almost every aspect of modern life, including the delivery of government and health-care services. Moreover, the Covid-19 crisis and the global disruptions it caused have made adopting the technology more urgent than ever, especially in the Arab world, some educators and policy experts say.
“The current technologies weren’t enough to solve some of the problems that appeared during the crisis,” said Fatima Alsebaie, a blockchain research fellow with Derasat, the Bahrain Center for Strategic, International and Energy Studies.
The technology has potential applications for both high-income Arab countries with their sophisticated financial and economic systems, and lower-income states where a decentralized data storing system could offer reliability in times of political and economic uncertainty.
But while some Arab countries have started experimenting with the technology, few higher-education institutions in the region have introduced it in their curricula. The lack of trained experts and scarce academic research pose challenges in developing the technology and benefitting from it in the Arab world.
Efforts to Teach the Technology Lag
Blockchain technology is best known as the technology behind Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but its applications are far wider. Some Arab countries, mainly in the Gulf region, have started adopting blockchain technology in providing government and commercial services and managing supply chain systems. In 2018, the United Arab Emirates launched a strategy aiming to transform 50 percent of government transactions into the blockchain platform by 2021.
But efforts to teach the technology in the Arab world are considered too simplified and slow in comparison with the speed of implementing it in the business and services sectors, Alsebaie said.
In Arab countries where this technology is embraced, its novelty and rapid evolution and the lack of qualified scholars in the field are reasons for its absence from the curricula of most universities and scientific research organizations, though there are some exceptions, such as King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia, and the Bahrain Institute of Banking and Finance.
Underdeveloped and simplified curricula at higher-education institutions will result in a gap between IT students’ academic qualifications and the needs of the market, Alsebaie said.
Classes at Students’ Request
Yehia Tarek, a computer engineering graduate from Ain Shams University, in Egypt, said new technologies are offered in selective classes if students ask the university administration for them. In the blockchain class he took at the university, he learned the basics and low-level applications which a junior engineer wouldn’t use immediately after graduation.