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Calls for more investment in geospatial education

Geospatial technologies and space science have an indispensable role to play in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals through the measurement and management of resources, but most African universities lack the capacity for increased earth observation activities, a recent conference has heard.

Speaking at the second international conference of the centre held in Nairobi last month, Emmanuel Nkurunziza, director-general of the Kenyan Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD), said increased training in various areas of earth observation was needed.

The conference, with a focus on sustainability, brought together over 400 delegates from RCMRD’s 20 member states such as Botswana, Burundi, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe. They included academics, applications and software developers, hardware manufacturers, geospatial data producers and vendors, researchers, and policy makers. 

Delegates were concerned that as the world embraces geospatial science in the management of its resources, Africa was lagging, both with respect to technologies and the capacity to leverage technologies. University representatives in particular were concerned that institutions were not investing sufficiently in centres for geospatial education.

Universities currently offering geospatial technology courses at the conference included Uganda’s Makerere University, South Africa’s University of KwaZulu-Natal, University of Zimbabwe, Namibia University of Science and Technology, Kenya’s University of Nairobi and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology. 

“Our universities are not investing enough in developing centres of excellence to build capacity in geospatial technologies,” said Simon Onywere, director of research dissemination and uptake at Kenyatta University. 

Onywere, who is also an associate professor in the department of environmental planning and management at the same institution, said it was important that all university faculties and departments infuse Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in their programmes because everything is “location-related”. 

“Our students are responding positively to the courses but they have limited access to resources and exposure,” said Onywere who called for increased training programmes because the continent has inadequate instructors who are trained in the latest tools and are GIS specialists.

In an exclusive interview with University World News, Onywere said spatial technology can help Africa effectively manage resources such as land, and aid in decision-making that could improve productivity, especially in agriculture. 

Onywere said there was need to persuade universities to increase financial allocations to space science courses and to localise content. “We need champions from both the university and students to motivate investors both locally and internationally to fund space sciences training in our institutions of higher learning,” Onywere said. 

He challenged African universities to invest first and wait for the results and benefits. He said most universities were motivated by a need for returns on investment. “We need a paradigm shift here; let the universities invest and they will in the long run reap the benefits,” said Onywere. 

Lydia Kayondo, a senior lecturer from Makerere University’s department of geomatics and land management, said there was an increasing demand for geospatial courses at the university. This was confirmed by Samuel Nyangweso from Kenya’s Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology. “We started GIS, surveying and remote sensing as service courses but now they are core courses at the university,” he said. 

Nicholas Ozor, executive director of Nairobi-based African Technology Policy Studies, called for more streamlining at universities. 

He said there was a need for specific universities, especially science and technology based institutions, to offer geospatial courses rather than all universities offering the course.