Stellenbosch University
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SU helping Africa shape the future of higher education
Author: Corporate Communication/Korporatiewe Kommunikasie [Rozanne Engel]
Published: 23/05/2019


With the rest of the world moving rapidly into the fourth industrial revolution, with artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, precision medicine and quantum computing holding the promise of radical changes to all aspects of society, Stellenbosch University (SU) is hoping to help Africa be part of that next revolution.

At the core of all these advances around the world are the rapidly developing fields of data science and computational thinking. To afford Africa the opportunity to help shape the next revolution and change the traditional landscape of higher education teaching and learning, SU will be launching The Stellenbosch University School for Data Science and Computational Thinking on 29 July 2019.

SU's new School for Data Science and Computational Thinking (DS&CT) will take a non-conventional, trans-faculty approach to teaching and research in DS&CT. Prof Wim Delva, the acting Director for the SU School for Data Science and Computational Thinking has expressed great excitement at the future impact the school can have on developing new research and training future data scientists in South Africa.

“The School will offer opportunities to train and gain experience in functioning as a data scientist within a team (as opposed to being a PhD student working in isolation). The importance of this is that team work leads to reinforcing best programming practices and ultimately with more and better quality control and agility," says Delva.

With many of the faculties and departments in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) already playing a huge role in innovative and new ways of teaching and learning, the University hopes to prepare all graduates and support academics for the fourth industrial revolution, and to lend a hand to both the private and public sectors as a trusted and respected partner in and for the continent of Africa.

According to Prof Arnold Schoonwinkel, Vice-Rector: Learning and Teaching at SU, the university has always been working at moving along with the progression of technology and the integration of new technological methods or tools in teaching and learning.

“The School of Data Science and Computational Thinking, which includes aspects of research and coursework on artificial intelligence and robotics and machine learning, is one very pertinent way in which SU is preparing our students in research and education. The biggest challenge that we all face is foreseeing exactly what the Fourth Industrial Revolution entails. The role of level-headed academics will be to distinguish between the hype around the topic and know how to respond with sensible education. We should prepare students not to fear the fourth industrial revolution. Instead, we should teach them to use the advantages of technology including automation. They should use technology to create opportunities and improve society," says Schoonwinkel.

Continuous academic programme renewal has always been part of SU's approach. Many more programmes even beyond the STEM faculties will have a greater focus on computational thinking by example using computers and software systems to solve some of the problems that humans can do but that computers in some respects can do better.

“At universities, we can't keep on teaching the latest technology, because it's evolving so fast. What we should keep on teaching students is analytical thinking, systems thinking, critical thinking and we should incorporate all these thinking into as many different modules as possible. We are preparing students to utilise technology and even produce new technologies. There will always be skills that we teach students that will stay valid no matter how much technology advances or robotics are used," says Schoonwinkel.

The STEM faculties and the Social Science faculties at SU will gradually adapt their courses to understand what that technology can provide but also what it does to society and how the work force should adapt. According to Delva, the School for DS&CT will also be very integrated across faculties and will offer services to students, staff and even external stakeholders that will help them with new and innovative research and learning.

“The school will have more training and learning offerings for people who are unable to do full-time studies on campus. These could be either professionals who cannot put their jobs on hold for extended periods, or students for whom full-time studies are too expensive. For these groups, the School will develop blended learning modules, taking the best of both worlds from the Massive Open Online Courses universe and from traditional face to face teaching."


  • Click here for more information on SU's strategy and plans regarding technology in teaching and learning. 

Photo by Stefan Els.