Africa’s counting house

May 08, 2013
Leigh Phillips IDRC Science Journalism Awardee
A woman from Madagascar beams when she talks about the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences, and the thrill of being with students from across the continent: “Everybody speaks science. It’s very exciting. … It’s like a library with people instead of books.”
Read more about AIMS in Africa’s Counting House, a feature article by Leigh Phillips, published in the leading international science journal Nature. The piece was one of two dozen stories Phillips wrote for the London, U.K., publication as part of an IDRC Science Journalism Award for mid-career journalists. Phillips focused on reporting science stories from developing countries, and travelled to Mexico and South Africa during his fellowship.
In addition to students and instructors at AIMS-South Africa in Cape Town, Phillips talked to AIMS founder Neil Turok (“Africa is the greatest untapped pool of scientific talent anywhere in the world”) and Kwame Akyeampong, a senior policy analyst and mathematician at UNESCO (“What AIMS is doing is so important”).        
AIMS is a pioneering program that seeks to build Africa’s scientific research base and reverse the brain drain. Students selected for their ability from across the continent complete a rigorous 10-month course. They are taught by some of the world’s leading math professors, including Canadians, at centres in South Africa, Senegal, and Ghana.

IDRC administers the Government of Canada’s $20 million contribution to AIMS, which is helping to fund expansion of the network. Since its launch in 2003, AIMS has graduated about 450 students, from 35 countries. One-third are women.

Turok’s team is proud to have produced statisticians for the Zambian Energy Regulation Board, systems engineers for Namibian IT consulting firms, epidemiology researchers in South Africa, and lecturers at multiple African universities, who in turn educate hundreds of students each year,” Phillips writes.