African data science education programmes expand to meet diverse needs

Universities as well as hybrid-model online and accelerator programmes are offering a wide variety of data science courses and helping to create a pipeline for newly minted data scientists to enter the enterprise workforce.

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As enterprises around the world race for an edge against competitors by using  data they have gathered to optimize business processes and create new revenue streams, institutions of higher education across Africa have begun offering data science programmes designed to produce graduates who can solve African problems and move into the enterpise world. 

Data science is a broad term that overlaps with different disciplines but broadly refers to the act of extracting value and actionable information from data, using a mix of traditional statistics and newer programming methodologies.

The term has been in use for several decades but has gained currency as enterprises have become awash in a sea of data, funneled into databases by a wide variety of new customer-facing applications, particularly mobile apps. Data science, though, can be applied to small data sets as well as the "big data" generated by mass-scale applications.

One of the newest data science programmes in sub-Saharan Africa is the School for Data Science and Computational Thinking at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, opened in July 2019 with the goal of "blazing new trails in what is still largely uncharted territory," according to Wim Delva, who was acting director at the school at the time. The programme highlights a multidisciplinary approach embracing subjects including mathematics, computer science, mathematical statistics and AI.

The need for robust data science education in Africa was underscored by South African Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande during his address at the official opening of the Stellenbosch programme when he remarked that, "Data science as an academic discipline was pushed by the need for teams of people to analyze the big data that corporations and governments are collecting. The task for both government and universities is to prepare the youth, and adults, for the skills of the future."

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