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New field of data science captivates South Africa’s youth

December 4, 2017 • Education, Southern Africa, Top Stories

New field of data science captivates South Africa's youth

New field of data science captivates South Africa’s youth.

Explore Data Science Academy, South Africa’s first such training institution, futured by BCX, has received over 7 500 online applications for its 2018 Cape Town based one-year Accredited Skills Data Science Programme.

The academy launched just two months ago with an offer of 100 free internships in 2018, courtesy of founder sponsor BCX. The ICT business is to invest over R50-million in 300 data science internships through the Explore Data Science Academy. The investment has largely been fuelled by the growing demand for big data analytics and BCX’s recognition of the need for this skillset within the country.

Ian Russell, CEO of BCX, is thrilled by the interest in Explore’s disruptive educational model.

“BCX’s investment in students to complete the yearlong course and internship is aimed at harnessing the immense potential that data science and analytics has for the future of tech,” says Russell.

There is an estimated global shortfall in data scientists of two million. Likewise, there is huge demand for these skills within corporate South Africa, which far outweighs current supply.

“As an organisation, we’re passionate about technology and the innovation that it allows to improve South African lives. At BCX we are tech activists and as such we have full support for tech movements such as these offered by the Explore Data Science Academy — movements that remove barriers to entry for South Africans to have the appropriate future skills to enable them to become key players in the technology space and in the growth and sustainability of South Africa’s economy,” Russell adds.

Explore co-founder Shaun Dippnall is overwhelmed by the number and calibre of the applicants to the January 2018 intake – over 1 000 of whom were graduates from other universities.

“The response indicates the huge appetite among South Africa’s young people to move into this exciting new field,” he said.

According to Dippnall, half the applicants were Gauteng based and were willing to move to Cape Town for the internship programme.

There were no restrictions to entry for the one-year internship programme, nor were formal qualifications required. Applicants had to be between 17 and 35 years of age, display an aptitude for problem solving, mathematics and statistics, and then pass a challenging aptitude test on the academy’s website.

“The online aptitude test proved a great way to assess talent, which, as we found out, South Africa has in abundance,” Dippnall added.

The course will be held at the academy’s premises in the Bandwidth Barn in Cape Town and incorporates training material, leveraging the latest in data science and artificial intelligence research. The Academy has been designated as a Seta Accredited Skills Programme.

“Data science, at its core, is about solving real world problems. We will teach our interns how to solve these by applying the latest techniques – from prediction models and artificial intelligence – to the growing amount of data available in businesses,” Dippnall said.

Dippnall added that the course design closely mirrors the demands of the workplace. Included in the curriculum are tools such as Python, Tableau, SQL and Scikit-learn, which are routinely required when building data science applications.

“We have also added job immersion and self-paced project work, which both involve team dynamics and interaction,” Dippnall said.

While job placement at the end of the year is not guaranteed, Dippnall is confident that uptake of candidates will be strong given the shortage of skills. Stipends are available to cover the living expenses of the successful candidates who are in financial need.

Dippnall and his team aim to open a Johannesburg-based academy in 2019. For more information on the Explore Data Science Academy, go to www.explore-datascience.net

Edited by Fundisiwe Maseko
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