SKA initiative upskills students as data scientists

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Students participating in the SKA human capital development programme earn their academic stripes.
Students participating in the SKA human capital development programme earn their academic stripes.

The introduction of the Square Kilometre Array's (SKA's) human capital development programme has seen 127 students acquire useful skills for the flagship project.

This is according to minister in the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, commenting on the positive results of the SKA initiative.

With projects like SKA in the pipeline, the demand for analytically skilled students is increasing and SA is under immense pressure to address the data science skills gap.

Globally, the shortfall for data scientists is projected to be between five million and 10 million. For SA to have "healthy participation" in SKA, the country will need 200 data scientists when the project is live, the DST previously noted.

Data scientists' skills are required to interpret and analyse the vast amount of data that will be produced by the SKA radio telescope.

The SKA human capital development programme was implemented to focus on producing the South African engineers and scientists with the skills required to design, build and use the radio telescope.

Out of the 127 students that have benefitted, some have gone on to acquire advanced academic expertise, noted Kubayi-Ngubane. "Of these, 14 have graduated with honours, 32 with masters and 24 with doctorate degrees."

At the launch of the Hydrogen Intensity and Real Time Analysis eXperiment radio telescope, the minister emphasised the importance of inspiring the next generation of learners to enter the exciting fields of science and engineering.

Kubayi-Ngubane said the project will contribute to human capital development, adding that training PhD students will contribute to the achievement of the target of 100 PhDs per million of the population by 2030.

SA is making inroads with its radio telescope projects having officially launched the MeerKAT in July.

These 64 dishes, each 13.5m in diameter, are distributed across a span of 8km in a remote area in the Northern Cape. The 64 MeerKAT antennas are in the Karoo.

The completion of the 64-dish radio telescope has paved the way for the construction of the second phase of the SKA project, which is set to commence in 2021, and is scheduled to be completed in 2026.

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