Above: “There is a high demand for data scientists in Africa and across the globe,” says Prof Kanshukan Rajaratnam, Director: School for Data Science and Computational Thinking.

– Rozanne Engel, Stellenbosch University’s Corporate Communication 

“South Africa and the continent of Africa has a lot to teach the rest of the world. We have a very young and intelligent population. It is a unique place where Data Science can be used to create opportunities for Africa and outside Africa that will help to better lives.”

This was the message from Prof Kanshukan Rajaratnam, Director: School for Data Science and Computational Thinking, who delivered the keynote presentation at a recent online talk hosted by Stellenbosch University International.

In his presentation, Rajaratnam highlighted what Stellenbosch University (SU) was doing to build data science capability in Africa and opportunities for institutions across the world in this space.

He believes that Data Science can be used in the fields of Health, Water, Agriculture, Education, Climate and Energy throughout the African continent.

“We are producing so much data now; all of that can be analysed to improve the quality of life for all citizens around the world. We also need to collect and store our own data in Africa, so we can use it to solve our own problems and needs on the continent,” said Rajaratnam.

SU launched the School for Data Science and Computational Thinking in July 2019 with the vision to be a world-class institution for data science and computational thinking in and for Africa.

The school has been hard at work to facilitate non-conventional, trans-faculty approaches to teaching and research in data science and computational thinking at the University in an interdisciplinary way.

The school established the African Data Science Academy earlier this year to carry out the school’s mission to facilitate human capacity building in data science and computational thinking at the University, nationally in South Africa, across Africa and globally. It develops and presents open courses offered by the school as well as bespoke courses developed for our industry and academic partners.

To date the school has also collaborated with many higher education and international institutions, including Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States, as well as the United Nations.

Rajaratnam said that the school hopes to collaborate with many other institutions on the continent and globally in the near future.

During his presentation, he also focused on how artificial intelligence was used to detect a flu-like virus in Wuhan and to lower fatalities among vulnerable populations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Without data science the pandemic would have been worse. Data science was used in diagnostics, in discovery, pharmaceutical discovery and in various other aspects in the solution to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Rajaratnam also highlighted the role that SU played in the fight against the disease and mentioned how SU students came up with innovative ideas during the online 2020 Hackathon. Participating students were challenged to develop solutions that could help small businesses to function effectively in the post COVID-19 environment. Rajaratnam believes this is a good example of how important data science education is to help train young people in Africa to help find solutions for the continent.

“There is a high demand for data scientists in Africa and across the globe. With Africa’s young and tenacious population, there is a lot of opportunities to build partnerships to solve problems in Africa going forward.”

For more information on SU’s School for Data Science and Computational Thinking, click here.