SA education transforms with AWS

Johannesburg, 20 Aug 2020
Read time 4min 20sec

AWS is helping to transform education in South Africa, making teaching delivery more effective, education management and research more collaborative, and skills development opportunities more accessible.

This is according to Zubin Chagpar: Head of MEA, AWS Public Sector Sales, who was speaking ahead of an AWS cloud survey and a series of cloud webinars in South Africa.

AWS has long supported digital transformation of local education institutions, and has recently been working closely with a number of industries – including education – to use cloud technologies to accelerate digital transformation and support service delivery amid the COVID-19 pandemic, says Chagpar.

Enabling education

“The University of Pretoria (UP), one of the largest universities in South Africa, launched its first AWS workload in 2016 and now runs its Web site, Learning Management System (LMS), Learning Analytics, and post-graduate experiments in machine learning and text analysis on AWS. The AWS Marketplace enabled UP to deploy third-party software, Blackboard, a virtual learning environment and learning management system, which integrates with AWS Directory Services for LDAP to provide redundant access to nearly 50 000 students. The university rated top of all SA universities for research outputs using the cloud for scientific research into artificial intelligence and machine learning and, by using AWS, can produce research results in hours instead of days,” he notes.

Another example of an education institution that has benefited from AWS services is another one of South Africa's largest research universities, the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits). Wits migrated its Learning Management Systems to the AWS cloud in just a matter of days. AWS’s availability, scalability and security compliance has enabled Wits to provide uninterrupted learning to students and post-graduates during the COVID-19 national lockdown.

GovChat, South Africa’s largest citizen engagement platform, launched a COVID-19 chatbot in less than two weeks on AWS and is now working with the government to drive innovation. Working with the Department of Social Development and the Nelson Mandela Foundation, GovChat launched a programme called Vangasali (meaning 'no one left behind' in Xitsonga). This programme aims to ensure that early childhood development (ECD) facilities in South Africa are properly supported by the government, especially during the national lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19. Through GovChat, ECD facilities can be recorded and mapped, which will assist in determining the coverage of ECD services, particularly in poor and vulnerable communities.

In July, GovChat, together with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), also launched a school-readiness polling feature for parents, pupils and teachers, as South African schools start opening up for contact learning. “Data-driven decision-making is what will help and, as GovChat, we are trying to do our part,” Eldrid Jordaan, chief executive officer of GovChat, said.

Building cloud skills

In the longer term, digital technologies will be crucial for future-proof education, and AWS is making significant investments in education, training and certification programmes to ensure the necessary skills will be in place to support this.

AWS is focused on expanding impact in cloud skills and technology education across Africa. AWS Training and Certification programmes are available to customers to help them in their cloud journeys, and the company has also grown its regional training team, bringing the programmes even closer to customers.

Among its skills development initiatives, AWS supports the Explore Data Science Academy to educate students on data analytics skills in order to produce the next generation of data scientists in Africa. When students graduate, 95% of them find a job with an average starting income of R360 000, AWS says.

AWS is also working with several education institutions in South Africa, such as the University of Cape Town and Stellenbosch University, to help train the next generation of cloud professionals through AWS Educate.

Another programme for higher education institutions is AWS Academy, which provides AWS-authorised courses for students to acquire in-demand cloud computing skills. The programme has already attracted the country’s major academic institutions, including the University of Cape Town, University of Johannesburg, and Durban University of Technology.

AWS also supports GirlCode, which strives to alleviate South Africa’s high unemployment rate through targeted technology skills and capacitation initiatives, including a GirlCoder Club, workshops and a small medium and micro enterprises (SMME) accelerator to facilitate collaboration between women from diverse backgrounds in creating innovative and sustainable solutions that improve the lives of South African youths.

AWS, in collaboration with ITWeb, will explore trends and opportunities to drive transformation through cloud technology in a webinar to be held on Thursday, 3 September. For more information, and to register for this event, click here.

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