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Data science, and the extraction of insights from the vast amounts of data generated in the emerging digital economy, will be key to effective governance, service delivery, and improving the lives of South Africa’s people.
This was the message emerging from a graduation ceremony for 180 students who had completed a data science skills programme by the Ministry of Communications and Digital Technology and the Media, Information and Communication Technologies Sector Education and Training Authority (MICT SETA).
The training course was aimed at young people from poor and rural backgrounds, and forms part of a broader skills programme to equip South African youth for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and the future digital era.
“Data science techniques can harness the power of data to build predictive models to help governments reduce costs, eliminate risk and optimise limited resources,” said Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams at the online event.
Echoing the minister’s sentiments. Spawn Fan, CEO of Huawei South Africa, said that ICT skills such as data science would be indispensable in the new business era in narrowing the divide between the haves and the have-nots.
“We have seen the power of ICT to reduce inequality,” said Fan. “Today, the key to enhancing young people’s economic power is improving their connectivity and their digital skills. It is incumbent on all stakeholders in the digital economy to build initiatives to narrow this digital divide.”
Data science is a broad field that involves extracting knowledge and information from large amounts of raw data using various scientific methods. It incorporates skills from computer science, artificial intelligence, mathematics, statistics, information graphics and business communications.
“Partnerships such as these show we are making strides in developing South Africa into an ICT-knowledge-based society, in keeping with world trends,” said Ndabeni-Abrahams.
The minister said the data science skills programme emanated from a commitment made in her 2019 budget speech to train 1 000 South African youth in 4IR-related skills. Besides the data-science course, the department’s partnership with the MICT SETA also provides courses on 3D printing, cybersecurity, drone piloting and digital content production.
“Captains of industry and members of the president’s commission on the 4IR have recommended building human capacity in the field of 4IR, including data science,” said Ndabeni-Abrahams. “You are the first brigade. Platoon by platoon we are building South Africa’s 4IR army.”
Fan said in providing ICT training, Huawei South Africa was a proud partner of the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies. He said among these joint initiatives was the Seeds for The Future programme, where 50 students had recently graduated.
Huawei also launched a programme with the DCDT in 2019, targeting 6 000 students for 4IR training. A four-day Huawei programme providing training in 5G technologies had attracted more than 400 students from 26 universities, he said.
“The way to avoid the 4IR entrenching the digital divide is through conscious investment in upskilling youth for the new era,” Fan told the recent graduates. “Skilled professionals are crucial for the growth and development of our country, and you represent hope for the future.”