Building knowledge base for industrial mathematics in Africa

Africa needs technological development including modernization of higher education. Challenging problems persist: civil infrastructure, food production and agricultural practices, logistic chains, public health and sanitation, environmental hazards, energy scarcity. Reforms in industrial processes through engineering skills are pivotal for sustainable development. The knowledge that ECMI represents could provide welcome and needed components in the reform of the rising continent. Science education and teachers training are important factors in building the foundations for industrial activity and welfare production and skills for information society.

Motivated by these factors and with help of valuable personal contacts Lappeenranta University of Technology initiated collaboration with mathematics departments of a number of African universities a decade ago. LUT has coordinated two projects: (1) East Africa Technomathematics 2007-2015 and (2) Mathematics education and working life relevance in East Africa 2013-2015. Eight universities in East African region in five countries were involved (Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia) http://www.mafy.lut.fi/HEI-ICI/ . Three universities from Finland were partners in the project (Lappeenranta, Tampere and Oulu). The projects were funded by the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and administered by The Center for International Mobility, CIMO, (http://www.cimo.fi).

A weakness in mathematics education in the 3rd world countries is often the missing touch with applications. The educational culture fails to bring forward how to apply mathematics to the benefit of the society. The aim was to transfer to African colleagues the ideas and encouragement that ECMI stands for, to promote awareness about real world impact of mathematics, computational skills, adequate use of data, analyzing systems by computational models. Mathematics education plays an important role in the development of any nation.

The project has included student exchange on MS/PhD studies level, staff visits, intensive courses and workshops on curricula, university-industry interaction and teacher training. Number of MSc degrees and PhD degrees have been generated. We have promoted MatLab skills, data assimilation methods, weather models, applied statistics, statistical analysis of models, MCMC methods. An important feature has been introduction of Modeling Week concept, a novel idea in the region. The activities also facilitate “within East-Africa” network effects and encourage female students to seek careers in technology and science.

The base of technologically advanced industry in most regions in Africa is understandably thin. The scope of Industrial Mathematics would mean computational modeling skills, data analysis and software tools in conventional industry. Also economics, finance and topics from insurance and actuarial area are important. Regarding industrial mathematics the immediate challenge is be to get mathematics departments linked with engineering, chemistry, agriculture and other schools. We hope to see increasing  number of student projects, company placements and internships and MSc thesis projects coming from areas like traffic, logistics, civil engineering, water/sewage networks, finance, insurance, agriculture and food chain, energy networks, epidemiology, health, demographics, social data analysis, telecom networks etc.

The story of ECMI has been encouragement and inspiration for our project. Africa could benefit a lot from collaboration with the European applied mathematics community. To influence the skills and aptitude of the next generation of mathematics teachers is another big task.

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