GCRF African SWIFT has enabled African meteorological training institutions to update their curricula to improve teaching of practical forecasting skills and to incorporate innovative forecasting methods into teaching. Through SWIFT, collaborations between research and operational communities have been strengthened so training resources can be effectively shared and curricula can be developed with a broader awareness of modern African forecasting. SWIFT has produced several training materials, which are being incorporated into curricula in several institutions, collectively training hundreds of African specialists every year.
Practical, economic and societal impact/ anticipated impact
More effective curricula in training institutions will lead to more efficient work from early-career forecasters and more sustainable use of forecast innovation. Improved forecasts have a positive impact on a range of sectors, including agriculture, fishing and disaster management.
SWIFT has worked with African organisations to identify training needs and to build capacity to address areas for improvement. In 2019, a review of curricula at all partner training institutions was held through the project. Representatives from all partners gave presentations analysing areas of curricula that could be improved. Suggestions were then discussed. The needs that were identified included: improving the capacity of trainers; offering more training in computer programming; improving training methods for daily “synoptic” forecasts; and having access to case studies to facilitate practical forecasting modules. SWIFT has already begun to address all of these.
A set of case studies for teaching synoptic forecasting, as well as a computer programme (known as “MARTIN”) to make the teaching of these case studies easier, was produced through SWIFT. These have already been used to update curricula at the Regional Training Centre (RTC) for the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet) in Lagos, and the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), in Kumasi, Ghana. To find out more about training developments in these institutions, see our case study focusing specifically on the RTC Lagos and KNUST. Subsequently, these practical methods have been adapted and used in forecaster training events in other tropical regions, including events in Malaysia, Indonesia the Phillippines and the Caribbean.
Through SWIFT, the figures and tables from each chapter of the Forecasters’ Handbook for West Africa1 were converted into PowerPoint slides for teaching, which are now available online and are planned to be incorporated into training courses at several institutions. Some of the material was used in a SWIFT training event in Togo in 2018, attended by about 50 forecasters and researchers from across West Africa and delivered in partnership with the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) Severe Weather Forecasting Programme (SWFP). The Forecasters’ Handbook forms a comprehensive reference source for weather forecasting in West Africa, across a wide range of timescales from hourly “nowcasting” to the preparation of seasonal forecast, so the slides can form the basis of a whole training course. The slides are soon to be available worldwide on the World Meteorological Organisation’s (WMO) ‘Global Campus’ where they will be accessible for meteorology students all over the world. Both the Kenyan Meteorological Department (KMD) and the Federal University of Technology (FUTA) in Akure, Nigeria plan to use the slides in future courses. The slides form part of a growing set of resources on Global Campus: slides from the training module Learning to Co-Produce (L2CP) by the UK Met Office’s Weather and Climate Information Services for Africa (WISER) project were also uploaded after encouragement from SWIFT.
SWIFT has offered several training courses for meteorologists in the Python computing language, which has created a sustainable source of programming knowledge African countries. Computer skills are vital for responding to the needs of users in the co-production process. If a user wants a product presented in a different way, the weather service needs to be able to meet this need by adapting the computer programmes generating the products and visualisations.
After the success of an initial course in 2018 (run in collaboration with the DARA project) where 20 meteorologists were introduced to python, a one week workshop was held in June 2021, where 38 participants learnt Python skills specific to meteorological work. Two of the leaders on the second course had been participants in the first – the courses developed teaching capacity, “training the trainers”, as well as coding capability. These training courses were linked to the ongoing research responsibilities of the participants within SWIFT. For instance, participants learned how to write programmes to create new information from weather forecast data, and used these programmes in their research, working with forecast users to improve the information they receive, and evaluating the skill. The ongoing work was supported by hackathons and regular online workshops.
Benefits of international and collaborative working
SWIFT has strengthened links between operational and research centres in partner countries, which has given researchers improved capacity to deliver practical training, has improved the skills of forecasters in computer programming, and has improved the capacity of operational centres to incorporate forecast developments into training.
A lack of capacity in trainers was an area for improvement recognised at the 2019 SWIFT curriculum review. Researchers were able to improve their training capability during SWIFT testbeds (intensive forecast development projects bringing together researchers and operational forecasters). As part of the testbeds, training in synoptic forecasting and nowcasting was delivered (using some materials from the Forecasters’ Handbook) and researchers learnt how forecasts are produced by engaging with forecasts in real time. All SWIFT partner universities plan to include developments from testbeds into their curricula, and progress has already been made in the curriculum at KNUST (see our other case study).
Dr Bethwel Kipkoech Mutai of the University of Nairobi, Kenya (UoN), has started to bring SWIFT work on nowcasting to training courses beyond SWIFT partner countries. As a postdoctoral researcher, Mutai worked with SWIFT to develop nowcasting products that can be used by meteorological agencies to make short term (0-6 hour) forecasts. Using knowledge gained from this work and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) developed for the SWIFT testbeds, he delivered two nowcasting training sessions in Rwanda in 2019 and 2021 to approximately 20 and 25 postgraduate students respectively. Students from a range of backgrounds such as Maths, Physics and Meteorology took part in the training, and many were employees of the Rwanda Meteorological Agency. By using Standard Operating Procedures, the training embedded SWIFT work on analysing user needs into operational practice. Mutai plans to continue offering nowcasting training in Rwanda, and is a visiting lecturer every year in the M.Sc. Atmospheric and Climate Science programme at the College of Science and Technology at the University of Rwanda. Nowcasting is an important area for improvement in Africa, as there is currently limited capacity but much potential for improvement, as demonstrated by SWIFT.
As SWIFT has facilitated the implementation of new research into operational practice, it has enabled operational training centres to incorporate new products into training, encouraging sustainability in their use. In the regional training centre in Lagos, SWIFT research has led to innovation in curricula, in particular the use of hands-on case-studies in forecaster training. See our other case study here.
African SWIFT has made developments in African forecasting that can have direct positive impacts when correctly put into practice. The project has also shown that significant improvements to African forecasting are achievable. It is important that progress made in SWIFT is used to its full potential by trained African professionals, and developed further in future by trained African researchers. SWIFT training materials are already being used in several institutions on the continent, and curriculum development projects are already under way. By enabling developments of curricula in training institutions, SWIFT has advanced capacity in African institutions to make the best use of SWIFT work.
Martin Parker, Elijah Adefisan, Bethwel Kipkoech Mutai, Joseph Mutemi, Douglas Parker