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Human Capital Development: Astronomy and African Education

The International Astronomical Union has also noted the key role of modern astronomy as a tool for educating young people. As one of the most approachable sciences, and one that fascinates children, astronomy is an excellent vehicle for introducing them to science and technology. Due to its unique combination of science with inspiration and excitement, it has distinct potential in facilitating education and capacity building throughout the developing world.

 Already, the SKA candidate project has had a positive influence on South African education. The Carnarvon High School, one of the closest to the proposed core site of the SKA, now has a computer lab worth almost 1 million Rand, faster internet than is available in Johannesburg, and has given out hundreds of university bursaries to students wishing to study astronomy and engineering.

 More generally, with its potential to advance our fundamental understanding of the Universe, radio astronomy has captured the imagination of young Africans and increased the number of students studying astronomy- and space-related sciences at University. Ghana's Minister of Environment, Science and Technology, Ms Sherry Ayittey, said in March that the Ghana Radio Astronomy Project - implemented as part of the SKA project - would kick-start a Graduate and Post-Graduate course in astronomy and astrophysics in Ghanaian universities. Her South African counterpart, Naledi Pandor, highlighted that the African SKA bid "has stimulated interests in the field of astronomy across the continent. To mention but a few, the University of Botswana, the University of Antananarivo in Madagascar and the Eduardo Mondlane University in Mozambique have recently introduced courses in astronomy and astrophysics". Developing universities programmes in this manner will be crucial to the further strengthening of Africa's science capacity

As well as developing the content of university programmes, encouraging signs can be seen in terms of the infrastructures with which African universities interact. For example, recent developments of the telecommunications infrastructure include the establishment of the South African National Research Network, connecting universities in Gauteng Province. All Southern African Development Community countries (except for the Democratic Republic of Congo) have high capacity fibre connections to their neighbours. These infrastructural improvements further enable southern African countries to participate in research facilities such as the SKA.