University of Malawi (Malawi) UNIMA students shine UNESCO INDIA-AFRICA Hackathon

The quality of education at the University of Malawi often shines when the institution’s students get the chance to showcase their skills in countries outside Malawi.

Recently, from 22nd to 25th November, 2022, four students from the University of Malawi were part of a team that travelled to India to participate in the UNESCO INDIA-AFRICA Hackathon. The Hackathon is an annual computing event, organized by the Ministry of Education in India, which brings together students, teachers, and the research community of India and its African partners to showcase their skills in using new technologies to tackle various problems. This year, the event involved 22 African countries. All the students were organised into up to 100 teams, tackling various problem statements around the themes of health, water and sanitation, agriculture, education and energy. The Indian government paid for all the students’ costs, including visa application fees, accommodation and air tickets. The students were given individual rooms at Gautam Buddha University in Uttar Pradesh, Greater Noida, India.

According to the Head of Computer Science Department at the University of Malawi, Dr Kondwani Godwin Munthali, UNIMA was contacted to provide names of high performing students to be considered for the Hackathon. The department submitted up to 10 names, out of which four students were selected. The students included Rejoice Tiwahlani Banda (3rd Year Computer Networking), Agatha Chituwa (4th Year Computer Science), Rexa Mphuwa (3rd Year Computer Networking), and Peter Isulu (3rd Year Computer Networking). These students were joined by those from other universities in Malawi, leading to a final contingent of 21 students from the country.

From the 100 teams at the Hackathon, 20 teams emerged as winners. Rejoice Tiwahlani Banda, who was in one of the winning teams, pointed out that the experience was one to remember. “Each of the teams featured individuals from different countries,” she pointed out. “In my team, for example, there were several students from India, one Togolese, and one Malian, in addition to myself, a Malawian. It was easy for us to interact and prepare for our challenge, through Zoom calls and face-to-face interactions. Our task was to design an app to calculate roofing area and reflectance from satellite data and estimate saving in electrical units as cooling load decreases by increasing the rooftop reflectance by painting it white.”

Banda also points out that, apart from the thrilling group coding experience, she has attained a number of valuable lessons from the trip. Among those lessons is the realization that there is more being done outside the formal classroom, when it comes to coding. She also appreciated the fact that culture is not a barrier to innovation, but that diverse experiences can enrich the overall strength of a team.

After the event, the participants had the opportunity to visit the Taj Mahal, and to do some shopping.