“In order to compete in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), Africa must develop the relevant skills now, and the Big Data Africa School (the third one in as many years) has proven to be an effective initiative in training young people in the context of the 4IR. The structure of the programme provides the participants with relevant problems to solve, under the guidance of local and international big data experts. Students are required to work in teams, and then present their solutions to their peers,” said Dr Bonita de Swardt, organiser of the Big Data Africa School and SARAO Programme Manager for Strategic Partnerships for Human Capacity Development.
Takalani Nemaungani, Director of Multiwavelength Astronomy, in the Department of Science and Innovation, echoed this: “I am pleased to see that the SKA project is contributing to big data training in Africa. The fact that this 3rd Big Data Africa School has brought together students from the eight SKA African partner countries, from different fields, is a testimony that astronomy can contribute to the broader societal needs of the continent. I am grateful that our partnership with the UK through the Newton Fund and the DARA initiative, is equipping a new generation of data entrepreneurs, data scientists and data professionals.”
The other teams worked in projects in healthcare, radio astronomy, sustainable agriculture; and astronomy.
Awards were also given to five individual students for their leadership skills, showing the most improvement; and for being an effective communicator.
Karina Santana, an Honours student in Physics at the University of Pretoria, was the recipient of an Effective Communicator Award. “I was happily surprised to receive the award. I am honoured to be chosen out of a group of brilliant people for my communication and leadership skills. I’d like to thank the organisers and judges for selecting me, I really appreciate it and all that they have done throughout the School,” said Karina.
Mercy Mwikali Zacchaeus received a Leadership Award: “The Big Data Africa School is the best school that I have attended so far. Since I have no background in machine learning it was initially a challenge, but also interesting. With the mentors and the whole team ready to help, I was able to pick up the challenge. I was surprised and delighted to receive a Leadership Award and I am grateful for being selected and I will do my best to merit this recognition,” she says. Mercy recently completed a BSc degree in Physics and Mathematics at Rongo University in Kenya.
“This has been one of the most helpful and interesting Data Schools that I have ever attended. There has been so much emphasis on understanding methods, achieving group learning outcomes and results. It has really been a safe space to ask and grasp any concept. The willingness to share information and help each other progress is encouraging,” said Chileshe Mutale from the University of Zambia, the winner of the Most Improved Award.
This year’s Big Data Africa School was followed by a two-day industry session giving students exposure to data science careers, from leading experts from a variety of industries such as higher education, cloud and data services, supercomputing, research and radio astronomy.