By Morton Sibale, MANA
A total of 24 students from Malawi and other African countries on Wednesday became the first cohort to graduate from the African Drone and Data Academy (ADDA), whose inaugural graduation ceremony took place at Bingu International Convention Centre (BICC).
The academy, which was launched in January this year, is the first of its kind in Africa and was established with support from UNICEF-Malawi.
It is run through the partnership between Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and the Malawi University of Science and Technology (MUST).
Acting Director in the Department of Civil Aviation in the Ministry of Transport and Public Works, James Chakwera presided over the graduation and he said Malawi in particular stands to gain a lot from the academy.
The skills the youth have acquired, Chakwera said, would help the country to address some challenges in many areas, including health and agriculture.
“The skills that they have gained from this academy have the potential to help us advance various sectors including health, agriculture and disaster management.
“A lot of countries are already utilising drone technology in these areas and we want Malawi to do likewise.”
He further said government is ready to support the graduating students to effectively utilise the knowledge and skills that they have acquired and that efforts are underway to introduce relevant legislation that will sanitise drone operations in the country.
In his remarks, UNICEF-Malawi Country Representative, Rudolf Schwenk said his organisation recognises the significance of technology and innovations in its programming, thus the need to establish and support the Academy as a way of teaching relevant skills to young people.
“We are very happy to graduate our first cohort today,” he said. “These students have not only learnt to build drones but also how to use them to collect data and rapidly transport things like medical materials, for instance blood samples,” Schwenk said.
Schwenk further called upon students to use the skills to help their governments and societies as well as to create job opportunities using the entrepreneurship skills they have gained from the other components of the curriculum.
MUST Vice Chancellor, Professor Address Malata said her institution was particularly impressed with the number of female students that enrolled for the inaugural cohort, saying it helps to allay the misconception that female students cannot excel in science subjects.
“Drones are already used in other countries to make a difference in many areas of life such as health and disaster management,” she said.
“This academy symbolises that Malawi is beginning to embrace this technology”.
She expressed happiness that her institution partnered UNICEF and Virginia Tech in setting up the academy, saying it fits well with the MUST’s vision to spearhead science, technology, innovation and entrepreneurship.
Representing the graduating students, Royce Kamuyango from Malawi said she was glad to be in the first cohort of the Academy, saying the course has helped her understand the dynamics of drone technology and the aircraft industry.
“I now have an understanding of how to utilise drone technology in various areas, including Geographic Information Systems (GIS),” she said.
The African Drone and Data Academy was established to equip young people in Malawi and the African Region with necessary 21st Century skills and strengthen the drone ecosystem to aid humanitarian and development responses.