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Register to attend Sierra Leone’s first ‘Big Data’ Seminar with University of Pretoria’s Dr. Vukosi Marivate

Dr. Vukosi Marivate
University of Pretoria

Dr. Vukosi Marivate an expert in machine learning and data science will lead a seminar on “Applied Data Science and Machine Learning” at the University of Sierra Leone, Fourah Bay College on 7 November 2019 for data analysts, university faculty, graduate students, and academic and non-academic researchers.

This is a one-day data science workshop to train policymakers and data experts on new cutting edge tools and data analysis algorithms with a focus on big data.

The seminar will include lectures, interactive demonstrations, hands-on exercises, and discussions covering topics including:

  • Data Science
  • Natural Language Processing
  • Visualizations for Data Science
  • Machine Learning

Eligibility criteria:

  1. Data analysts, university faculty, graduate students, or other academic and non-academic researchers can apply
  2. Applicants must be proficient in reading, listening, speaking and writing in English. 
  3. Applications must be submitted here before the deadline: October 25th, 2019, 12:00pm GMT.

Each participant must come with a laptop to ensure active participation in the exercises and, if possible, come along with data sets to work on.

The seminar is organized by the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation.

Blog

Sierra Leone turns to technology and analytics to put quality back into education

Today, an estimated 2 million students return to school for the second year of the Free Quality School Education (FQSE) Program. The Government of Sierra Leone commits 21% of the national annual budget to the education sector as part of this historic initiative.  Last year’s focus was on universal access – tuition subsidies and learning materials. This year, policymakers will use data science and analytics to focus on quality to improve learning outcomes.

Click to view this visualization in the education hub

The FQSE Program is part of Sierra Leone’s larger national development plan which focuses on human capital development. Sierra Leone currently ranks 151 out of 157 countries on the Human Capital Index (HCI), which measures the level of productivity a child born today can expect to attain by the age of 18. The primary indicators are health and education. Children are expected to complete 9 years of basic (primary and junior secondary) education in Sierra Leone. A child born today will produce at 35% of his or her potential at 18 years if he or she had quality education and good health. However, for half of that time, students are enrolled but are not learning. Sierra Leone has a learning gap of 4.4 years according to the most recent HCI

The Government of Sierra Leone wants to change this statistic.

A new national Education Data Hub (www.educationdatahub.dsti.gov.sl) developed by the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI) in partnership with the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education (MBSSE) shows that at least 80% of students across Sierra Leone failed the West African Senior Secondary Certificate Exam (WASSCE) between 2016-2018. 

Click to view this visualization in the Education Hub

Five districts: Bo, Bombali, Bonthe, Moyamba, and Pujehun have reported fail rates greater than 96%. While student performance drops slightly from the primary to junior secondary level, performance declines dramatically from junior to senior secondary school. The Education Data Hub includes data from the Annual School Census (Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education, 2018) and the National Examination Results (West African Examination Council, 2016-2018) for all three national exams (NPSE, BECE and WASSCE). 

The Minister of Basic Senior and Secondary Education (MBSSE) says they can now make better decisions and inform education policy because of data analysis and visualization available via the education data hub.

“For the President’s vision of Human Capital development to materialize, agriculture is involved, health is involved, but the narrative starts with education,” said Mr. Alpha Osman Timbo, Minister, MBSSE at a recent Ministry leadership workshop.

The Minister said that the availability of data will allow decision-makers like him to change the way they plan, how they spend, and where they invest government resources. The data hub will ensure that beyond making education free and accessible for all children, quality takes focus. Citizens too can use the data to hold policymakers and educators accountable when students fail and to also directly support their schools thereby increasing accountability. 

The Chief Innovation Officer of DSTI, Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, says the data casts a dark shadow over the nation’s recent educational past and its current state. He recently did a demonstration of the education data hub showing never before seen linked data to all Deputy Directors of Education from all districts, Free Quality School Education (FQSE) program heads, leaders of the Teaching Service Commission, and the leadership of MBSSE at the regional consultative workshop for the FQSE Implementation Plan.

“While most people had an idea that our education system had challenges, they believed that their districts, schools, and children were doing well because they did not look at the entire data. But when you see the numbers, it becomes clear that something major is wrong and that education over the years has been a disaster in Sierra Leone,”  said Dr. Sengeh.

“For example, the WASSCE pass rate for Pujehun district – where my parents come from –  was 1% last year. We cannot have our children spending twelve years in school and have none of them pass to go to university. What is discouraging is that the fail rates happened repeatedly and yet no known changes of impact were made by parents, educators or the government at the time.”

A team of data and computer scientists at DSTI prepared the data and led the development of the hub and its dashboards with partners over eight months starting in January 2019. The hub data includes (10,747 schools) every school in Sierra Leone that responded to the Annual School Census in 2018. National Examination data records were also obtained from the West African Examination Council for the 2016-2018 period. Linking these records and validating population data from Statistics Sierra Leone allows for deeper research and analysis of a variety of indicators that may have an impact on student learning outcomes.

“For the first time in history, we can begin to understand the effect of having bathrooms in good condition on examination performance. Being able to visualize the distribution of schools that have computers or bank accounts, or need classrooms, allows decision-makers to now interact with data to inform policies,” said Kumba Musa, Data Scientist, DSTI.

“The combination of datasets also helps the Ministry understand the distribution of children that are out of school across the country, map the distances students have to commute to access school and visualize poorly performing schools against their approval statuses,” said Ms. Musa. 

To prepare, clean, and validate the data, scientists at DSTI worked in close collaboration with staff at the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education, particularly the Policy Unit headed by Mrs Adama Momoh. Mrs Momoh heads a team of experts within the Ministry who lead the digital collection of the school census and have technical knowledge on the education sector. Missing data, invalid entries, misspellings, and several other structural challenges made it tedious to clean the datasets. However, through the power of data analytics algorithms and from the lessons learned, the team at DSTI have developed models to expedite the cleaning of the 2019 data.

The hub and dashboard show that Sierra Leone’s commitment to education goes beyond getting students into school buildings. Year one of the previously seemingly impossible Free Quality School Education Program launched by H.E President Bio focused on access. Now, the country can begin to explore quality education by using data to optimize the learning outcomes of Sierra Leonean children so that they can become productive adults engaged in national development.

Blog

Scientists at DSTI Sierra Leone fight corruption with code

Sierra Leone just took a giant technological leap. Scientists working at a new agency for innovation launched within the Office of the President are using code to fight corruption. Only 3 out of every 100 citizens in this West African nation of 7 million have access to the internet according to 2016 data from the International Telecommunications Union. Although internet access is limited, scientists say one of their ultimate goals is to develop the world’s first government quantum network for data encryption. Code against Corruption The first challenge that scientists at the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) took on involved the government’s fleet of vehicles. In March 2018, a new government was elected into office. During the transition period, an estimated 4000 cars were reportedly missing. The President asked scientists at DSTI to solve the problem of the missing vehicles. The team analyzed data from the Sierra Leone Road Safety Authority (SLRSA) and found that 38 vehicles belonging to the government were re-registered to new owners without authorization. While the majority of these illegal transfers were intra-government, 17 high-end cars were transferred for private and for commercial use. They also discovered that 75% of all such transactions both authorized and unauthorized occurred in the three years leading up to the 2018 elections. The SLRSA has a register of 281, 762 vehicles of which 4,694 belong to the government spanning the last ten years. Despite having all this big data, SLRSA did not have the tools for analysis. To explore exciting questions and develop hypotheses, like what could have happened to 4000 vehicles it requires more big data analytics.  Analysis of big data (big data involves large volumes of datasets that generally need complex analyses) goes beyond the capacity of Excel and summary statistics. Using the existing SLRSA data, the data scientists’ code found that there was a 600% increase in authorized transfers from 2014 to 2015.  Moreover, an additional 560 vehicles changed ownership in the two years before the 2018 elections. These discoveries have been sent to the Anti Corruption Commission to determine what to do next. While the Anti Corruption boss Mr. Francis Ben Kaifala says it is too soon to know what they will do once they have an opportunity to evaluate the SLRSA vehicle data further, DSTI’s work has given his investigators a leg up. “With data like this we know what to request from the target institutions or persons, and with whom to speak,” said Mr. Ben Kaifala. Data means quicker turnaround on investigations. The Anti Corruption Commission now knows the names of individuals both within and outside of the government who have transferred government vehicles. Technology for national development   At the official launch of the Directorate at State House earlier this week, President Bio said that his vision is for the team at DSTI to harness technology for national development. He believes that Sierra Leone can join the likes of Kenya, Mauritius, and Rwanda who have created thriving ecosystems for innovation and technology. “My strategic vision for Science, Technology, and Innovation is not to start producing microchips and competing with the likes of Intel and Samsung just yet,” said President Bio. “We are looking to cultivate science, technology and innovation tools that will be successfully applied to solve our national development problems and improve the quality of life in Sierra Leone.” The President recognized the need for technical capacity thus sort to recruit “the best and brightest” to deliver this vision.  They have been recruited both within Sierra Leone and its diaspora. Guiding the team is Dr. Sengeh who recently engaged with President Bio, and Bill Gates at GoalKeepers 2018 in New York. Dr. Sengeh is Sierra Leone’s first ever Chief Innovation Officer. He was appointed by the President to lead this Directorate. Quantum ambitions “We have everything. Sierra Leone has the enabling environment for tech and innovation to thrive because the President has made it a priority”, said Dr. Sengeh. He says that people need to believe that Sierra Leone with all its problems and stories of gore can produce innovative technological solutions. Those who think that developing countries like Sierra Leone cannot lead the world on innovation need to think again. DSTI scientists already have their sights on doing what no other government has done. The Directorate has announced that it will be the first government agency in the world, to develop an impenetrable quantum encrypted network that will keep state data secure. Quantum is the future of computing; it is next-generation technology for data protection. “We have the technical know-how; our scientists are the best and brightest in their fields. In just four months we’ve worked on solutions from financial data mapping to developing a national education dashboard with UNICEF so that policymakers and donors can identify indicators that affect learning outcomes, performance, and quality education,” said Dr. Sengeh. “We did this with the 2018 national school census that the government recently concluded. We create tools to make the data useful for decision making. So it is not a question of if we are going to transform Sierra Leone into an innovation nation, it is a question of how soon”.
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