Interest in data science education explodes in Africa in wake of pandemic

More and more academic institutions, as well as a few global technology giants, are offering data science courses in Africa with the express purpose of solving African problems. In the process, they are creating a new and exciting employment pipeline.

data scientist woman at virtual monitor user interface tools for data science by metamorworks getty
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The importance of data science burst into the public consciousness in 2020, as the world battled to come to grips with the scale of the pandemic. Suddenly, everyone was an amateur data scientist with theories and charts to back it up. But  trained African data scientists have been hard to find.

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 (SU) 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.

Due to the popularity of the programme, SU is launching a new undergraduate degree course in data science with a true multi‐disciplinary nature in 2021.This programme is presented in four faculties: Economic and Management Sciences, Science, AgriSciences and Arts and Social Sciences.

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