UJ Set To Introduce Data Science Program Next Year

Participating in Big Data and Data Science could also help in rebranding Africa’s image and could be central to solving some of the major issues affecting the continent.

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Kupakwashe Kambasha

The University of Johannesburg is set to introduce a “Big Data” and Data Science Program in January 2018, said the Director of the Institute for Intelligent Systems, Professor Bhekisipho Twala, at a seminar at UJ’s APK Library on Tuesday.

Speaking at a seminar on the “Challenges of Big Data”, Twala mentioned that the University would introduce a Data Science program next year. He added that South Africa stands to benefit from this “Big Data” & Data Science era if the country gets the youth involved.

He suggested that it would be ideal if similar programs were introduced from matric level. Data Science could also provide unlimited employment opportunities which could attract people to study towards a career in the field.

Data Science has increased in popularity and has created a high demand for data scientists across the world. “Big Data has become some sort of a big thing in recent years and some call it a celebrity,” Prof Twala said.

There is often a misconception that “Big data” and Data science are one and the same thing. Prof Twala pointed out that there is a clear distinction between the two.

“Big data” is the collection of large sums of information, while Data Science is the scientific analysis of specific information to produce knowledge that can determine results in areas of socio-economic and political life, he said.

Data has become a lucrative business with large companies such as Amazon, Facebook, Google, Oracle and IBM making use of it. “Some data analytics believe that if you utilize big data you have a chance of a competitive edge in whatever business that you do,” said Prof Twala.

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Students and lecturers gathered in the Chinua Achebe Auditoriumtorium to listen to the lecture. Photo by Gaby Ndongo.

From a business perspective, “Big data” and Data Science helped companies gather information about consumers, Twala said. This makes it easier for companies to offer tailor made solutions to their client base.

But allowing companies to access people’s personal information with such ease can lead to serious cases of invasion of privacy and the misuse of information.

The Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI) was signed in 2014 and gives consumers total control over their information and forces companies to make the consumer aware for what purposes their information will be used, according to a report by IT News Africa.

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Audience members listen as Professor Bhekisipho Twala spoke about the challenges and possibilities of using Data Science. Photo by Gaby Ndongo.

Aside from its benefits in the business world, “Big data” & Data Science could also be used to address poverty, health care and drug and substance abuse, said Prof Twala.

Data Science can be integrated into any field of work, said Prof Twala. Social data, for example, could be of use to a psychologist whose work deals with social behaviours. The psychologist would need the skill set to analyse the data and this is where the data science training programs come into play.

Participating in Big Data and Data Science could also help in rebranding Africa’s image and could be central to solving some of the major issues affecting the continent. TOJ

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