Open source conference promotes spatial literacy

July 3rd, 2017, Published in Articles: PositionIT


Spatial literacy and its role in society was the focus of Malcolm McInerney’s keynote address at the recent FOSS4G Africa 2017 and QGIS South Africa User Group conference. McInerney pointed out that spatial literacy is a way of thinking which applies to all subjects and not just to geography, and as a result of the geospatial revolution it has become an increasingly important skill for living and working in the 21st Century.  Spatial literacy is a major blind spot in education curriculums, he said, before going on to emphasise the need to develop the spatial citizenship capacity of students and providing details on useful resources to make this possible.

From left to right: Bridget Fleming, Nick Norman, Pam Esterhuysen and Gavin Fleming.

The FOSS4G Africa 2017 conference, which focused on free and open source geospatial software, was held from 26 to 30 June 2017 at St John’s College in Johannesburg, and overlapped with the South African Geography Teachers’ Association (SAGTA) Conference on GIS in education. Workshops on South Africa’s spatial data infrastructure, mapping with OpenStreetMap, open source geospatial software for educators, disaster risk management, and geospatial outputs from flying robots were also part of the week-long programme.

A workshop and presentation on Tangible GIS during the conference provided an ideal example of how to facilitate the spatial literacy of learners. Using a scanner, projector and a kinematic sandbox in conjunction with GRASS GIS, St John’s Geography teacher Sam Jones demonstrated how terrain changes to kinematic sand could be captured, brought into a GIS, analysed and the results projected back onto the model in real-time.

Later a panel discussion on how the GIS industry can help geography educators brought home the harsh reality of under-resourced schools and the difficulty of teaching GIS to students who may not have been exposed to computers. Industry stakeholders were asked to support schools and become geo-mentors for teachers in order to transfer GIS skills and knowledge as widely as possible.   The teachers on the panel discussion also urged the geomatics industry to work with the education authorities to ensure that the geography curriculum reflects the requirements of the industry.

Bridget Fleming, Pam Esterhuysen, Malcolm McInerney and Clinton van der Merwe.

During the course of FOSS4G Africa 2017, the Geo-Information Society of South Africa (GISSA) hosted a discussion and workshop on the topic of job reservation for geomatics professionals. Sam Osei, the chairperson of GISSA Gauteng, provided the background to the issue and explained that the profession needs to provide a strong argument as to why certain job categories should be reserved for geomatics professionals. Comments from the floor included concerns about the benefits of job reservation for professionals in the private sector and a reminder that the purpose of professions is to ensure competency and to protect the public.

A highlight of the conference was several interesting presentations illustrating how free and open source geospatial software had been used in a variety of South African applications.

Mnqweno Mnyengeza explained how his organisation, Statistics South Africa, was making use of the Q-Field mobile mapping application to assist in providing rural and informal settlements with formal and reliable addresses as directed by the Constitutional Court of South Africa. He provided a live demonstration of the application in action and stated that the goal is to have every rural and informal address captured before the next election.

Frank Sokolic from EduAction GIS Solutions explained how he had made use of QGIS to process aerial photographs in order to provide evidence in support of various land claims. He used the eMhlangeni land claim in KwaZulu-Natal to illustrate how his work facilitated the final settlement of the land claim 16 years after the initial land claim was lodged.

Derrick Wells from Eskom gave a presentation detailing how he was using QGIS to prepare the electricity distribution area of supply information for the National Energy Regulator of South Africa. He explained the background to the project, outlined the basic process and provided details on the QGIS functions that he had used.

The week-long conference concluded with a code sprint and UN GIS Hackathon hosted at the Johannesburg Centre for Software Engineering in Braamfontein.

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