Photograph — decentral

The Explore Data Science Academy (EDSA) has announced an online course and a series of data science competitions aimed at making ‘future job’ skills available to South African high school students.

Starting from next month, scholars between Grades 10 and 12 can access ‘Data Science for High School’ online. Priced at just R249 a month, the 10-month course teaches the fundamentals of data science and exposes students to Python programming, data visualisation and some basic machine learning algorithms.

“As an Academy, we’re concerned that vital future skills are not being taught at our high schools. We’ve also priced the course to make it affordable to as broad a spectrum of scholars as possible,” said Dippnall, a co-founder of the Explore Data Science Academy.

Dippnall also stresses the need for youngsters to be creative problem solvers who write, code and are able to solve complex software algorithms. “…From February 11, motivated scholars can begin accessing the course material, which will involve between five and seven hours of self-study a week,” he said.

Although the course is purely online, instruction material is supplemented by videos and assessments to help guide the student. Regular testing will track the progress of students and provide necessary feedback.

Commenting on the relevance of the course to high school students, Dave Strugnell, EDSA co-founder explains that young South Africans need to learn these data science skills from an early age.”In many countries, these skills have been introduced into the syllabus at primary school level already,”said Strugnell.

A little motivation?

In addition to the online course, Explore will be holding two competitions later this year, which will involve scholars competing against each other in order to solve complex problems using data science techniques. Entrance is free.

“These will be Kaggle-style competitions where we give scholars a problem, as well as supportive data, and a time period to solve it. Whoever builds the best algorithm wins,” says Aidan Helmbold, another Explore cofounder. The winner per competition will earn R10 000. Second prize is R5 000 and the third prize is R2 500.

Dippnall reinforced the Academy’s commitment to mobilize a community of South Africa’s youngest and brightest. “We’re also excited to market this emerging profession so that our youngsters get to see first hand how cool data science is, and then have an option to follow a career in this emerging space.”

The bigger picture

With the continuous evolution of technology, the demand for data scientists has increased in recent years. However, the lack of skilled labour in the data science sector has been a challenge for many businesses in developing economies. Government bodies and organizations everywhere are digitizing their businesses and this is producing huge amounts of data, but Africa has not been progressive when it comes to data mining. It continues to play catch-up to more developed continents like Europe, America and Asia who continue to record successful data mining methods and applications. Providing training for students to develop these practical skills represents a huge boost to the country as well as Africa at large.

Also, how well this data is handled could determine to a large extent, the fall or survival of economies and companies. The field of data analysis is therefore of importance to the advancement of economies and systems in Africa. It is paramount to focus on building a technical capacity by having online courses and competitions that use African data-sets to solve African challenges. A decision by other countries to follow in EDSA’s footsteps promises a more secure future for the next generation of African leaders.

About EDSA

In late 2017, the EDSA made headlines when it announced 100 free data science learnerships sponsored by Business Connexion Group for its 12-month Accredited Skills Data Science Programme in 2018. These learnerships have since increased to 300 in 2019.

As stated on the company’s website, the Explore Academy aims to “be a place where a combination of business and analytical skills can be practiced and refined, to produce world-class data scientists.”

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