UNESCO-Huawei Partnership Fosters Training on Artificial Intelligence Programming in Eastern Africa

Artificial Intelligence © UNESCO
Artificial intelligence can be a great opportunity to accelerate the achievement of sustainable development goals. But any technological revolution leads to new imbalances that we must anticipate.
Ms. Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO

We are living through what has been termed the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a fast-paced socio-economic transformation driven by rapid technological progress that is disrupting entire industries and governance systems. UNESCO position itself rapidly to ensure that it can provide all its Member States with the necessary foresight to take advantage of this technological revolution while ensuring respect for human dignity and security. Artificial intelligence holds great promise for building inclusive knowledge societies and helping countries reach their targets under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, but it also poses acute ethical challenges.

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers 2018 survey of nearly 1,400 CEOs in 91 countries, many companies face ‘a shortage of skilled talent to clean, integrate and extract value from big data and move beyond baby steps toward AI’… It’s not only a matter of hiring or developing AI specialists and data scientists. It is equally important to cultivate a workforce ready to use AI based systems. In Asia-Pacific and Africa, as many as 35% and 45% of company CEOs respectively express ‘extreme concern’ about the availability of necessary skills. The current skills gap is preventing companies from embracing AI. Engineering has always had an essential role in development and human welfare. Ensuring that future generations of engineers and scientists will be able to design solutions for local and global challenges is critical. Artificial intelligence is now evolving at breakneck speed, thanks to increasingly powerful supercomputers. One might initially associate artificial intelligence and machine learning with robots and science fiction. However, it is, without question, seeping into our everyday lives through, for example, digital advertising, speech recognition tools and innovations. The breakthrough in AI is on an accelerated development path and has been further propelled by innovations in other frontier technologies, including cloud computing, big data, Internet of Things, and virtual reality. As a convergence of a widening spectrum of frontier technologies, AI has garnered the potential to bring new possibilities for global development and societal change.

Under this backdrop UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa joined hands with Huawei Technologies (Kenya) Co., LTD to train university and college faculty members who are in the early carrier and willing to formulate and integrate AI into their teaching course as part of their regular course from Eastern Africa Regional countries. The developing countries in Eastern Africa will be able to reap the benefits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and overcome the skills shortage that hamstrings their national innovation systems. Through this initiative a new, out-of-the box teaching and training techniques that value cross-disciplinary skills and creative thinking, in order to produce a technically savvy, innovative workforce has been developed in Eastern African countries. They will also adopt what they learned through this training into their teaching curriculum to bring more youth work force in new technology.


UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa and Huawei announced their collaboration to enhance digital skills and the application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) at HUAWEI CONNECT Summit in Shanghai, China during 2019. Ann Therese Ndong-Jatta, Director for UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa announced the partnership during her speech at the Summit. She emphasized the importance for building digital skills in Africa and the tremendous opportunities for technology to improve education quality and accessibility: “I commend Huawei’s TECH4ALL initiative for focusing on technology to benefit people, and launching this initiative to make sure No One is Left Behind, especially those in the most remote areas. UNESCO East Africa is excited to work with Huawei together on this initiative.” The current training programme is second in the series with Huawei ICT Academy program under this cooperation agreement. 

This training programme is week-long (17-21 August 2020) programme with introduction to Python Programming; Propaedeutics of Deep Learning; image and speech Recognition Programming with Human-Machine Dialogue Programming. The morning sessions are devoted for theoretical and afternoon session are for online experiments.   At the end of the training, there was an online certification exam, where the trainees who successfully completed, received a Huawei HCIA-AI certification to become certified professionals in AI.

Artificial Intelligence Enhances Education

Meet Dr. Winifred Mutuku, an applied mathematician, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Mathematics and Actuarial Science at Kenyatta University, Kenya. She is the Head of Post-Graduate Studies and Patron of the STEM Club at University. She is among the 12 women selected from ten Eastern African countries (Comoros, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, South Sudan and Uganda) for the UNESCO-Huawei online AI training. The AI training was timely for her as she is passionate about the solutions Artificial Intelligence is providing to the challenges being faced in the World and Africa, in health, infrastructure, and food security among others.

At 8 am on 17 August 2020, Dr. Winifred Mutuku, sat at her desk, connected and ready for her week journey into the world of Artificial Intelligence (AI). This week-long training is part of the priority areas of collaboration defined in the letter of intent signed between UNESCO and Huawei, at the TECH4ALL Summit, held in 2019 at Huawei Connect in Shanghai, China. The joint training program on enhancing digital skills and the application of AI will contribute to the African Union Agenda 2063 and the United Nation Agenda 2030, which is an integral part of the UNESCO program on Quality and Inclusive Education and Huawei Digital Inclusion Initiative, TECH4ALL.

If I were teaching my students about the relevance of AI now, I will ask them, have you read about driverless cars, I will ask them whether they have used Google Maps, I will ask them whether they have ever ordered food through Uber. These will make them think about some of the services of AI services they have used and have not thought twice about, I will ask them, what do you think is the knowledge behind robots? Basically, I am trying to make them think. Behind a robot there is a computer program. Behind that program there is someone coding. That someone has to have certain mathematical skills. They will see how the services they use and understand the knowledge they need to acquire, to build things like robots and applications.
Dr. Winifred Mutuku

“I have always spoken to my students about AI though I didn’t have much knowledge on it. I was willing to share the knowledge I learnt through research. As a mother and as our Vice-Chancellor’s nominee, I cannot afford to fail,” said Dr. Winifred Mutuku on integrating AI into her teaching on Applied Mathematics. “This need to succeed, this desire to provide a good role model to my children and to my student are my motivating drivers to go the extra mile and acquire this knowledge.”

COVID-19, a Blessing in Disguise

COVID-19 is a blessing in disguise because as a country we have been quite unilateral in looking at how to deliver content. People have not been very comfortable and enthusiastic about the uptake of technology. This has provided an opportunity to see technology can be used to foster what we have been doing. The training was hands on, and relevant and I feel that going on we need to emphasize the uptake of technology at the primary, secondary and tertiary level” said Dr. Winifred Mutuku

For the classes who are graduating in this virtual COVID-19 environment, for the classes who are attending a virtual class, what made that possible? This is basically application of technology. We have to appreciate the values of AI that have made this possible. If there was no technology, and with the COVID-19 restrictions, we would not be able to have online classes.
Dr. Winifred Mutuku in her conclusion

The trainees, totalling 39 university/college faculty members (including 12 women) from ten Eastern African countries were nominated by the respective UNESCO National Commissions. The training provided the most fundamental knowledge to the university/college teachers who will be able to introduce AI to their students. During the opening of the training programme

Building digital skills in Africa provides tremendous opportunities for technology to improve education quality and accessibility. I highly value and recognize the collaboration with Huawei and expressed the willingness to build a stronger partnership with Huawei in fostering the use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in education. The need to improve ICT in education has become more evident than ever in the advent of COVID-19.
Ms. Ann Therese Ndong-Jatta, Director of UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa