A printed certificate: in the future an optional extra to the digital certificate
Photo: Ina Fassbender / dpa
Blockchain technology, hash values and cryptographic number chains: What sounds like technical jargon for IT freaks to laypeople could soon make digital school certificates possible across Germany. This summer, appropriate tests are to begin in North Rhine-Westphalia, Berlin and Rhineland-Palatinate. Govdigital - an association of public IT service providers - and Bundesdruckerei are currently working with Saxony-Anhalt to develop a new system for creating digital certificates. NRW even wants to issue them to the first high school graduates as early as the end of June, according to the local school ministry.
All federal states are included, says Eric Stange, who is responsible for the project at Bundesdruckerei.
"So far we have only had positive feedback, there is great interest." The digital variant is "simple, forgery-proof and complies with data protection regulations".
Paper certificates would prove to be more and more impractical, especially for graduates, because applications for study or training positions are now largely online, as the expert emphasizes.
When scanning, the quality suffers.
The risk of manipulation is great with paper certificates.
There are even tutorials on YouTube with instructions on how to forge music.
Not the end of the paper certificates
According to the Federal Online Access Act (OZG), all state services are to be made available to citizens digitally by the end of 2022.
In the area of education - Saxony-Anhalt was named here as the leading OZG actor - this also includes digital school certificates.
A minimal version has already proven that the thing works technically, says Stange.
In order to roll out the system for the whole of Germany, the application will now be tested in three "particularly pro-active" federal states.
By the end of 2022, all other federal states could initially jump up on a trial basis, and normal operations should then run from 2023.
But there is no compulsion.
Will the paper certificate soon die out?
Expert Stange and the NRW Ministry of Education do not see that.
Pupils could continue to receive it ceremoniously in the auditorium and present it in black and white.
Machine authenticity check and evaluation
What would be omitted would be unnecessary running around.
According to Bundesdruckerei, you can save time, effort and money.
Example Abitur: For applications, pupils have to have copies certified by the office, sent by post to the universities or companies, where they are then checked.
The project partners promise that this process can be accelerated significantly with digital certificates. In addition to their paper certificate, the pupils receive a digital version in PDF format that they can download from an online platform at any time and, for example, send by e-mail. A so-called checksum - called a "hash value" in technical jargon - for the respective certificate is stored in a blockchain as an unchangeable proof of authenticity and can be used for verification. Bundesdruckerei assures you that no other data is stored with it other than the checksum. "After the download, the certificate is only with the students."
If a student with such a certificate applies for a degree in physics, for example, the university can have its authenticity confirmed in a matter of seconds.
At the same time, the system on campus automatically reads the relevant Abitur grades for math and physics.
"The notes then no longer have to be transferred manually," explains Stange.
The first step is to get diplomas.
Little by little, the younger age groups should also have their say.
If a third grader moves to another federal state because of a family move, a few clicks would be enough to transfer the grade.
Test start before the summer vacation
NRW is currently making progress with the project: more than a hundred schools in the Cologne-Aachen area have been offered to take part in a test, reports the ministry.
You will receive a software prototype that will be integrated into the management system that has been used up to now.
Before the start of the holidays on July 5, the first digital Abitur certificates can be issued, with a certificate of authenticity and secured by a "cryptographic chain of numbers".
Some universities made it possible to enroll this summer.
"Experience from the field test should also be incorporated into the transnational working group." Digital certificates could improve processes, says NRW School Minister Yvonne Gebauer (FDP).
Do all teachers now have to attend an IT crash course?
There is no training required, assure govdigital and Bundesdruckerei.
The handling is easy: the schools enter the certificate data in their familiar system, transmit it via a new interface to the Bundesdruckerei, where the digital certificate is created, secured and sent back to the school.
According to the operators, the entire process is completely data protection compliant.
mak / dpa