The Gradient Boost, an online mentor guided data science school based in South Africa has launched to help data enthusiasts in Africa lean data science online with the guidance of a mentor.
The Gradient Boost’s co-founder Emmanuel Sibanda says the platform is creating an online learning experience that stimulates learning through mentorship.
“We are big believers in self-learning, but we understand that learning on your own, particularly with something as technical and challenging as data science, is difficult. We want to be the cheerleader helping students through this journey,” he said.
Presently the Gradient Boost is offering a 3-4 month self-paced Introduction to Data Science course which includes introductory modules on Python, SQL, Statistics, Data Visualization, Linear Algebra and Machine Learning. Each module ties into the previous module so at each point you are building up on things you previously learned.
To make the courses more practical, each week the platform’s students will have access to 2 live virtual forty-five minute tutorials in groups of 5. Placing people in small groups creates more opportunities for collaboration and peer to peer learning, Sibanda says adding that these tutorials are primarily an opportunity for students to ask questions to their respective mentors regarding topics, assignments and projects they may be struggling with.
Once registered students will also have access to live virtual workshops on select weekends. These will be practical workshops from Data Scientists, hiring managers, recruiters and management consultants on tools and skills used in Data Science, understanding the types of questions to expect in a data science interview and understanding how to apply a more structured approach to problem solving.
Market gap and competition
Sibanda says that MOOCs are great for learning theory, but not very practical. Data Science Bootcamp , on the other hand typically lean a lot more towards the practical side and often lack in theory.
Also, a lot of online data science bootcamps are very expensive for the average African and there are a few local alternatives springing up but not enough to meet the growing demand for Data Scientists and Data Engineers across the continent.
“We wanted to create an online school that is a good balance between theory and practicality, is entirely online and accessible by anyone with a laptop around Africa and also caters for students with little to no programming and/or statistics background who want to get into Data Science. This is needed now more than ever. The world is changing, COVID-19 and the resultant lockdowns are causing a lot of job losses. There will be a new normal after all of this, this is an opportunity to start building a skill that is vital to driving any online economy,” said the entrepreneur.
The Gradient Boost managed to pre-sign over 170 students and a little over 60 mentors during a test period. It also has a WhatsApp bot to give users access to 5 programming and stats challenges every 24 hours.
With the idea of both driving engagement, understand the skillsets of prospective learners better and building a culture of learning through practice. Users who had access to this bot were added to the Gradient Boost’s Slack where they could ask mentor questions or ask for feedback.
For the first cohort the platform is limiting intake to a maximum of 25 students, its maintaining a 5:1 student to mentor ratio and will only be working with about 5 mentors or less to start with. The actual charge is $350 for the entire course. However, because of covid-19, the costs have been reduced to $200 with the option of paying in installments.
The first Introduction to Data Science course will commence on the 18th of May.
How was it formed
A few years ago, Sibanda and friends founded Hooros Digital and used some of the revenues to fund their own projects. As a person who is very passionate about self-improvement and online learning specifically, this seemed like a natural progression for him.