Lilongwe — The opening of the first such academy in Africa - it has started operating in Malawi - is a major step towards the use of drones in programmes and services that will impact the lives of children and young people.
The historic African Drone and Data Academy (ADDA) opened in the capital, Lilongwe, this week.
It builds on the work of Africa's first humanitarian corridor launched in the Southern African country in 2017.
The academy will develop expertise in the use of drones for humanitarian, development and commercial purposes across the continent through a 12-week course.
It plans to train some 150 students to build and pilot drones by 2021. Funding from UNICEF's partners will provide free tuition to the first cohort of 26 students from across Africa.
Henrietta Fore, the United Nations Children's Fund's (UNICEF's) Executive Director, said ADDA would be instrumental in equipping young people with the skills they needed to use the technology to benefit children and their communities.
"Humanitarian and development programme delivery in Africa and beyond can benefit significantly from the application of drone technology," she added.
ADDA's curriculum has been developed in partnership with the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech).
This follows its successful delivery of training workshops in Malawi since 2017.
The course will combine theoretical and practical methodologies in making, testing and flying drones.
Kevin Kochersberger, associate professor at Virginia Tech, who will lead the project, said ADDA reflected Virginia Tech's ongoing commitment to the innovative application of drone technology and education in Malawi and the African region.
"The academy will give graduates the necessary skills for jobs using drone applications ranging from agriculture and health to natural resources monitoring," Kochersberger said.
ADDA is by 2022 set to run tuition-free two-year master's degree programme in drone technology.
This will be done in conjunction with Malawi University of Science and Technology (MUST).
It is anticipated this would also deliver a curriculum that will build local capacity and a favorable ecosystem for the emergence of sustainable business models for using drones for humanitarian and development missions.
James Chakwera, Director of Malawi's Department of Civil Aviation, said the government strongly believed that adopting modern technologies such as drones and advanced data analysis and management techniques would help serve the country's children better.
"We are proud to partner with UNICEF in such an exciting endeavor," said Chakwera said.