Africa’s first drone and data academy opens in Malawi

A drone takes off during a demonstration for residents in Thipa vllage, Kasungu District, Malawi.
A drone takes off during a demonstration for residents in Thipa Village, Kasungu District, Malawi. Photo courtesy: UNICEF

UNICEF has announced that the first African Drone and Data Academy (ADDA) opened on Wednesday in Lilongwe, Malawi.

The move is part of efforts to promote the use of drones in programmes and services that will impact the lives of children and young people.

UNICEF’s executive director, Henrietta Fore, says humanitarian and development program delivery in Africa and beyond can benefit significantly from the application of drone technology.

“The African Drone and Data Academy will be instrumental in equipping young people with the skills they need to use the technology to benefit children and their communities,” Fore said.

The school’s first class is comprised of 16 students from Malawi and 10 students from across Africa.The U.S. based Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) – helped develop the curriculum following the successful delivery of its training workshops in Malawi since 2017. The course will combine theoretical and practical methodologies in making, testing and flying drones.

Students will take a 12-week course to develop data and entrepreneurship skills. By 2021, the goal is to train around 150 students to be able to build and pilot drones. Additionally, by 2022, the academy will establish a two-year master’s degree program in drone technology in collaboration with the Malawi University of Science and Technology, according to Virginia Tech officials.

“The academy reflects Virginia Tech’s ongoing commitment to the innovative application of drone technology and education in Malawi and the Africa region,” said Kevin Kochersberger, an associate professor in mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech. “It will give graduates the necessary skills for jobs using drone applications ranging from agriculture and health to natural resources monitoring and urban planning.

James Chakwera, Director of Malawi’s Department of Civil Aviation, added that in Malawi, “the adopting of modern technologies such as drones and advanced data analysis and management techniques will help us to serve our children better. We are proud to partner with UNICEF in such an exciting endeavor.”