El Salvador’s “My First Bitcoin”: How to teach a country about crypto

In El Salvador, the grassroots Mi Primer Bitcoin program, which means “My First Bitcoin,” has been gaining momentum. The first cohort of Bitcoiner-come-students began studies in May. The program was founded by John Dennehy (an American activist and journalist), with the support of the Salvadoran government.

Cointelegraph spoke to Dennehy, Gilberto Motto (El Salvador’s director for education), to learn more about the country’s successes and struggles in Bitcoin ( BTC) education. We also wanted to know how fast it is spreading across the land of volcanoes.

The genesis block

El Salvador adopted Bitcoin on June 8, 2021 as legal tender. Only President Nayib Buke was able to explain concepts such as seed phrases and mining. “Bitcoin Beach” was the name given to El Zonte (the birthplace for Bitcoin adoption).

The remaining 6 million people would be taught by the 3,000 residents. To be able save and transact bitcoin, Salvadorans will need to spend hundreds of hours learning, training and orange-pilling.

Bukele received 6 million Bitcoin Protocol users at the moment he boarded them. Source: Twitter

The Salvadoran government faced a daunting task. Cointelegraph was told by Motto that Article 6 of Bitcoin Law states that “The State will provide training for the use of this currency.” But what would that training look? How can the state quickly and efficiently introduce Bitcoin classes, when they would also need to learn how to use new money?

While the El Salvador experiment unfolded, bitcoiners, commentators, and mainstream media watched. Dennehy, a former resident and worker in Latin America, said to Cointelegraph that he was forced to travel to El Salvador as soon as possible after the announcement of the law.

“I knew I wanted to make it work, and that it would be a success.”

Dennehy was “predisposed to the seperation of money and states” for some time. He became a passionate Bitcoiner after learning about Satoshi Nakamoto’s invention while living in Ecuador in 2013. He jokes that the first exchange he purchased Bitcoin from was hacked. This cost him approximately 2 BTC — which is now worth more than $40,000 as of this writing.

He had to find a way for him to contribute almost 10 years later, after the adoption of Bitcoin by the first country. He flew to El Salvador as soon as he could. He was surprised at how few vendors and merchants accept Bitcoin, just like other Bitcoiners who made the pilgrimage from El Salvador. Dennehy stated to Cointelegraph that there were “effectively zero [merchants]” when the law was in effect.

Rikki, a Bitcoin podcaster, and human rights activist, spent 45 days in El Salvador surviving on Bitcoin and no other. He told Cointelegraph similar stories of his adventures in Bitcoin Land. The government didn’t offer any education to El Salvadorans.

Cointelegraph was informed by Motto that Bitcoin has been integrated into financial education and financial literacy programs in the country. Motto explained to Cointelegraph that the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology was working with several institutions in relation to Bitcoin in the country.

“Including Bitcoin Beach Wallet and Mi Primer Bitcoin in the development a training module for Financial Education that includes updated content such as cryptocurrencies or electronic wallets.”

Even so, depending on a government or third-party to get things done would be contrary to Bitcoin’s ethos of “Don’t trust, verify.” A grassroots campaign for Bitcoin education that spreads like the network and which complements and extends the government’s Bitcoin education plans would be well-suited.

Mi Primer Bitcoin was founded in 2021 by Dennehy and offers free Bitcoin education to Salvadorans. Since then, it has received funding from both the LookingGlass and IBEX Mercado. This is a provider of services for Bitcoin and Lightning Network.

Dennehy learned about the project while he was settling in Salvador. Dennehy would casually ask, “Does anyone accept Bitcoin?” He realized that not only did many people not accept Bitcoin but also asked Dennehy for explanations.

“They wanted to know more. He said that they saw something with different levels of knowledge, but were generally interested in the subject.

Dennehy hosted preliminary meetings in Airbnbs and meeting rooms, where some of the first teachers joined the program. Dennehy explained that the first class was held in a yoga studio on Sept. 24, 2021, “because we were starting at zero.”

“We had no funds, we had no spaces. […] In fact, only one student attended our first class,” he stated.

With a conviction built across multiple Bitcoin bear market, Dennehy continued to fight for his cause. Classes had increased to nearly 80 students by October and more than 250 in November. The Bitcoin prices were also starting to rise — this could have been a catalyst.

“The truth is that interest levels change depending on the price.”

However, interest was maintained during the price action of 2022. In April, over 800 students took part in the class. However, the price fell to its lowest level ever. Dennehy said that the classes are about financial literacy. They cover everything from the history and solutions of money. Education in Bitcoin and financial literacy go hand-in-hand.

Motto agreed with Dennehy’s assessment. Motto stated that Bitcoin and financial literacy must be used in tandem in El Salvador. “Savings. Paying taxes. Planning expenses. Other concepts. Unfortunately, not all the population understands how to use them.

The Bitcoin Diploma program is targeted at teenagers, i.e. those who are most interested in learning about money. This is because they understand that money is intrinsically tied to independence. Dennehy states that this is a smart move as they are most likely to spread the Bitcoin message throughout El Salvador.

“If we can reach every 16-year old or 17-year old in the country, it will be possible to effectively teach the whole country in one year.” This demographic is very strategic. They return home to talk to their families, their aunts and uncles, and their little brothers, sisters, and will also go back to school.

The week 10 examination for the Bitcoin Diploma is divided into four parts. First, create a wallet. The second part involves restoring it to another device. The second task is making a transaction on-chain. Find the transaction in the Blockchain Explorer and explain why it can be considered final.

Dennehy said that 10% of the population is now using Bitcoin. This was one year after his arrival. Cointelegraph also reported that one-fifths of El Salvador merchants now accept Bitcoin.

Related: Morgan Stanley encourages investors to buy battered El Salvador eurobonds

Although progress is evident, Dennehy reiterated that Bitcoin is a global currency. The El Salvador progress could be replicated around the globe.

“We are focusing on El Salvador right now because we have limited resources, and El Salvador is our signal. This is the frontline. Our ambition is global. We want to make El Salvador a better place, and to make the world a better place.

He said that once we have created a template that works, the next step is to brand it as Bitcoin El Salvador and then open Bitcoin.

Opinion writer on 7trade7