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JEDI could drive Namibia toward a knowledge-based economy

Mon, 14 April 2014 02:44
by Timoteus Shihepo

National Commission for Research, Science and Technology (NCRST) says hosting the first ever Astronomy and Space Science Workshop in Windhoek under the Joint Exchange Development Initiative (JEDI) could drive Namibia toward a knowledge-based economy.
Speaking to The Villager, NCRST’s head of corporate communication and marketing, Elzita Beukes said this week the event, which is slated for this June, will generate a new breed of scientists within Namibia. These will not only come from the astronomy field but from other fields of science as well and hopefully, this will lead to more industrial spinoffs.
“Better equipped scientists will be able to tackle questions about the origin of cosmic rays and the nature of dark matter and this will potentially open up specialist employment opportunities, both directly and indirectly for Namibian scientists,” she said.
The gathering, to be hosted by the University of Namibia (Unam), will see Namibian and South African students who aspire to become future astronomers and space scientists interacting.
The JEDI model has proven to be a very useful tool in human capital development (HCD) programmes and has been applied successfully in various places in South Africa, Mauritius and recently, in Kenya. Its objectives include creating a platform on which students are introduced to research methods and techniques in the field of astronomy and space science. Quizzed on why only Namibian and South African students are taking part in the programme and not other Sadc students, Beukes said; “The workshop is meant for Namibian and South African students only, at this stage, because the two countries already enjoy a long history of collaboration on gamma ray detection. Namibia is currently home to a gamma ray observatory called the High Energy Stereoscopic System (HESS) and co-operates on various other astronomical and space science initiatives, including its bid to host the Cherenkov Telescope Array, which is a huge international initiative”.
NCRST chief executive officer (CEO), Dr Eino Mvula said in a period of five to ten years, Namibia will also be home to a number of radio telescope stations, which will form an integral part of the big square kilometre array (SKA) telescope.  “This workshop is key in ensuring active participation and growth for Namibia’s future scientists. The importance of investing in research programmes of this nature has to be emphasised, as it has the potential to broaden our country’s existing scientific and technological expertise and will lead to further industry spinoff benefits,” he said.
Unam physics lecturer, Dr Michael Backes, has said selected students from Namibia and South Africa, who have a solid foundation in the fields of mathematics, physics, computer science or engineering, will be given an opportunity to interact with expert facilitators with knowledge on their fields.
Backes  said workshop topics and coursework have been carefully selected to ensure students obtain a broad overview of the various areas of research in the field of astronomy and space science relevant to both Namibia and South Africa. “At the end of school, students will leave with a wealth of information regarding the field of astronomy and space science and its various areas of research for when they wish to pursue postgraduate studies in the field,” he said. NCRST, according to Beukes, has already injected N$50 000 into hosting the event while additional funding has been sourced from the International Astronomical Union (IAU) Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD).
“NCRST will also provide technical advice and support around the planning, co-ordination and marketing of this event, to Unam”. The aim of the gathering, Beukes said, is to ensure active participation of the country’s inhabitants in the operations, maintenance and scientific use of these world-class astronomical facilities, in performing cutting edge scientific research.
“Convinced of the value of this concept, Unam, together with NCRST, plan to make this an annual event and thus a pillar of HCD in Astronomy and Space Science in Namibia. The modalities (like purely Namibian or Namibian/South African interchanging locations, etc) will be worked out after the completion of the first workshop, together with our colleagues of SKA Africa,” Beukes said.