For the past two weeks, the Amply Team has been field testing a mobile DApp (Decentralised Application) for Early Childhood Development in Cape Town. This is the third iteration of our DApp and the first time we are testing it with a large and ever increasing group of early learning centers. We held an initial kick-off event with 10 Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres in Cape Town. Since then we’ve been iteratively deploying new versions of the DApp, assisting users through a Whatsapp group in their South African dialects and visiting them in the field to experience first hand how this is working for them.
Starting to test such a powerful mobile solution out in the African reality is an incredible experience. Not only does it make one realise the harsh realities we are trying to change, it also boils all the technological advancement of mobile technology and blockchain down to one factor: the user.
Coming from an industry where one boggles their mind over cryptographic principles and consensus protocols, engaging with a user and explaining the potential of a self-sovereign digital identity system is incredibly humbling.
Take Veronika for example, the principal of the iThemba Early Childhood Development centre in Muizenberg, Cape Town. In our most recent field visit she sat down with us and explained the importance of early learning centres for the local community. Many of the children that come here have parents who are unemployed, or suffer from substance abuse and at the age of 24 may have more than 5 children already. For these youngest and most vulnerable members of the community the centre is the only place where they are educated, cared for, and many only receive their only meal here.
“In our ECD centre children learn all kinds of skills in an age that is most defining for their life. This includes math, English, play and other life skills. We protect them from the reality of the outside world”. Veronika’s job is hard and chronically underfunded. In order to receive subsidies from the local government these privately run pre-school centers apply for subsidy payments on a quarterly basis. The quarterly report includes a daunting amount of paperwork, bureaucracy and the submission process is prone to errors. “Sometimes we travel all the way to the department just to find an error on the form requires us to re-do the quarterly report. Sometimes the paperwork gets lost at the department and we need to re-submit”.
In its first iteration the Amply mobile app now enables ECD centres to automatically gather their attendance data and submit it to the Department of Social Development. Currently, there is no process in place to track children or know precisely which ECD centre they are attending. Moreover, the department’s back-end system is entirely paper-based and very little data is gathered in a central location to provide information about the quality of services.
Not only will our platform allow children to easily move from one centre to another when their parents relocate, it will also enable service providers to track children from a very early age using their blockchain based identifier. Our protocol is unique in that it places each individual child at the centre of their relationships with Early Childhood Development services in a way that is ‘self-sovereign’ and directly beneficial to them. This means that a child’s digital identity and personal data are privately owned and controlled by the individual.
Over time, children’s life records become a crucial source of data, which can be used to receive services and insights that will become more predictive, precise, personalised, preventive, and participatory. By doing this we can develop entirely new classes of innovative applications for both local physical and distant virtual services. This is a big deal for growing a web of trust around children, to meet their developmental needs.
This is what we aim to achieve in the years to come. Right now, we need to solve the day-to-day problems of our users by giving them a free of charge administration solution that makes their life easier. While the centers are mostly excited about automatically submitting their subsidy claims through the app, many of them understand how important a child’s digital identity will become in their system. Using technology to shed light into the murky bureaucracy of social development, generating real-time verifiable data will benefit both the children and the centers. Veronika concludes: “I think it will work brilliantly”.