Global analytics leader SAS has partnered with three South African universities to launch a teacher training initiative that aims to provide hundreds of teachers with the tools to inspire their students to pursue careers in data analytics.
Titled Teachers4DataAnalytics, it will form part of a bigger SAS driven programme focused on secondary education, to provide a feeder for the company’s Global Academic Programme.
Despite one-third of South African university graduates and almost 60% of learners who successfully complete grade 12 failing to find jobs and meaningful employment, a massive skills shortage persists in technical sectors. Economies are digitalising rapidly, creating roles for entrants with data analytics and statistical skills. However, SAS says it has become increasingly concerned that school learners locally are largely unaware of the existing and emerging potential vocations that can offer future-proofed career paths.
Andre Zitzke, manager of global academic programmes in Africa for SAS, says: “The aim is to empower teachers with the knowledge and tools to be better placed to reach more students, encourage their curiosity and provide them with exposure to practical applications behind the curricula in STEM subjects so that learners become more informed on the careers available to them in the digital and data-driven age.”
The Teachers4DataAnalytics program was conceptualised by Professor Delia North, former Dean and Head of the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science, for the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) in South Africa. Professor North has been highly influential in statistics education in the country, having served as chair of the South African Statistical Association Education for 17 years, and playing a seminal role in defining the statistics content of the school curriculum since it was first introduced in 2002.
For the Teachers4DataAnalytics program, Professor North teamed up with Professor Christine Franklin, a world-renowned expert and leader in teacher training. They optimised the uptake of statistical concepts at the school level and produced a booklet that would guide teachers in their training to bring renewed insight into learning from data. SAS DataFly is the software of choice in this program, as innovative use of the software will allow the teacher to use it despite the constraints and the realities of teaching in less affluent schools.
The programme is defined as a scalable initiative that will be taken to other universities across the country – and later across the continent – to help connect schools, universities, industry and government in creating a talent pipeline for a digital future. A series of teacher training workshops that will be held at universities across the country will culminate in a SAS DataFly poster competition for teachers.
The inaugural teacher workshop was held at UKZN on 13 August 2022, with more than 30 mathematics and science teachers from 26 schools around the province. Speakers on the day included Professor North, Professor Franklin and Nombuso Zondo, a young lecturer in Statistics at UKZN, who presented the SAS Data Fly workshop.
The team behind the Teachers4DataAnalytics programme will take the workshop format on a roadshow to the University of the North-West and the University of the Western Cape in the coming months.
Professor North says school curricula require students to learn how to perform statistical calculations, but the time available to complete the year’s work limits learners’ ability to engage with the context of such calculations.
“This ‘dry’ method of presenting the curriculum does little to encourage curiosity and passion about statistics, which plays a role in reducing the number of candidates entering technical undergraduate qualifications and, ultimately, the number of university graduates who can fill important roles in a modernising economy. The sustainability of the skills value chain depends on learners being aware of career opportunities before leaving secondary school.”
In particular, she feels that any initiative that exposes learners to the enhancement of career opportunities in line with the needs of the modern workplace should be pursued with great focus.
“Teachers are ‘change agents’ and can have a fundamental influence in this regard,” she says.
According to Zitzke, SAS’s historical roots in academia are part of the reason the company is so involved in connecting talent with industry.
“It’s not enough to get involved at universities because we need to generate passion for STEM careers among learners so that they can make informed choices about what they want to study at the tertiary level,” he says. “We need teachers onboard to do this because the passion will be created in the classroom.”
Says North, “We have considered the South African context in which many school learners will not have access to computer laboratories or mobile devices. The free SAS DataFly visualisation tool can be run on the teacher’s single laptop and learners can record data written by hand on cards that can then be fed into the tool to build graphs and analytics in real-time. When learners watch the data fly in and populate histograms or scatterplots, that is where the magic happens.”
“These projects will require learners to capture data from their everyday lives, such as their activities or emotional states through the course of a day, to connect data analysis with the real world. Seeing it in action, with the capability to add fun features like colour and emoji customisations, heightens engagement with calculations and demonstrates their usefulness in understanding the world around us. Each class will then create a poster showing how they’ve analysed the data.”
Zitzke says: “It is our genuine hope that exposure through such projects will captivate the curiosity of learners on the process and purpose of capturing data for analysis while introducing the skills that learners will need once they reach the time for a professional career of their choice, whether that is business, academic or any other field.”
The coordinated Teacher Empowerment Workshops will leverage thought leaders from the South African Statistical Association Education Committee and the American Statistical Association to provide enriching learning material on SAS DataFly as the foundation technology, as well as additional material intended to stimulate discovery in the classroom.