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).
The inaugural graduation took place in Lilongwe on Tuesday.
The academy, launched in January this year, is the first of its kind in Africa. It was established with support from UNICEF-Malawi and is run through the partnership between Virginia Polytechnic Institute and Michigan State University and the Malawi University of Science and Technology (Must).
Speaking after the ceremony, acting director in the Department of Civil Aviation in the Ministry of Transport and Public Works, James Chakwera said Malawi in particular stands to gain a lot from the academy.
“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,” Chakwera said.
He further said government is ready to support the graduating students to effectively utilise the knowledge and skills that they have acquired from the academy.
Chakwera explained 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 of the drone academy today. 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,” said Schwenk.
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 destroy the misconception that female students cannot excel in sciences subjects.
“Drones are already used in other countries to make a difference in many areas of life such as health and disaster management.
“This academy symbolises that Malawi is beginning to embrace this technology. I am also particularly happy that over 55 per cent of this cohort were girls,” said Malata.
She expressed happiness that her institution partnered UNICEF and Virginia Tech in setting up the academy, saying it fits well with the university’s vision to spearhead science, technology, innovation and entrepreneurship.
One of the graduating students, Royce Kamuyango from Malawi said she was glad to have been in the first cohort of the academy, saying it has helped her to understand how drone technology can be used to improve service delivery in various sectors.
“The academy has helped me 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.