21.11.2023 - ICT, Technology

Aiming to outpace Europe through digital skills investment

Currently, around 3.8% of economically active people in Latvia are information and communication technology specialists, while the European Union average is 4.5%, according to the Digital Economy and Society Index 2022. Although Latvia is reducing the gap in terms of specialists, the overall digital skills of its inhabitants are still lower than the European Union average. A project entitled High-Level Digital Skills Training in Latvia in High-Performance Computing hopes to improve the situation.

To implement the project, 12 new study modules in high-performance computing technology will be integrated into degree programmes by 2026. The plan is for around 2,000 students and specialists from the business, academic and state sectors to learn more in-depth digital skills. The total budget for the project is €6.2 million, €6 million of which is an investment by the European Union Recovery and Resilience Facility.

This project enhances the work of the High-Performance Computing Competence Centre, founded as part of the European Union’s EuroCC project by the RTU High Performance Computing Centre and the UL Institute of Numerical Modelling, as reported by Labs of Latvia. This is a unified support structure to improve the use of supercomputing in higher education, research, public administration and business. The High-Performance Computing Competence Centre is part of the European Union EuroCC project, which was set up in order to develop supercomputing in Europe and establish a foundation of experts and skills for working with supercomputers. The Latvian centre is one of 33 competence centres in Europe.

Read more on supercomputing and its use in Latvia in the article Two weeks of work in a few hours.

From data analysis to communications

The study programmes are grouped by module and topic, including programming, data analysis, data visualisation, artificial intelligence, modelling, simulations and other skills required in the industry.

“As part of the project, new courses which have never been offered before are being created from scratch, and others are being modernised, some significantly, others minimally,” says Nora Jansone-Ratinika, Director of the Riga Stradiņš University (RSU) Centre for Educational Growth.

Agrita Kiopa, Vice-Rector for Science at RSU, explains that the courses are being created very practically. For example, one of RTU’s courses is being developed with the support of radiologists so that the new skills are tailored for everyday use by specialists from that specific field. She adds that the course content is being created to be understood by anyone at any age, so that these skills can be passed on to colleagues or customers.

The courses offer various levels of problem solving, security, digital content development, as well as communication and collaboration. “Specific industry knowledge and skills are not enough; you also need to be able to talk to people and work as a team. Although communication may seem self-evident, this is not the case,” emphasises Jansone-Ratinika.

Student-friendly content

This project emphasises not just digital skill development, but also learning and student-friendly content. Tija Sīle, leading expert at the Institute of Numerical Modelling of the UL Faculty of Physics, Mathematics and Optometry, says that the worst memories for those who were students not even that long ago, for example, 15 years ago, are lectures, where the lecturer writes on the chalkboard and speaks about incomprehensible things which need to be remembered for an exam later.

“We recently had an experience exchange event where we were able to view the new courses, and it feels good to see that they all involve active participation as part of the learning process. The foundation of the courses is the students often and regularly using the tools they learn about,” says Sīle.

Jansone-Ratinika adds that the courses in this project have also strengthened the lecturers’ skills in creating courses, from planning to evaluating results.

“The main added value of this project is the ability of students to create and use various digital solutions independently,” says Jansone-Ratinika.

The project also involves the challenges of high-performance computing. Just like how the Demola project brings together businesses and students, businesses will be able to pose their problems through this project, with students who have studied supercomputing able to offer their solutions.

“This project is not an accident. If we work in an education sector cut off from industry, we might not target what is needed now. That’s why we need to work with the industry. If we collaborate in this manner, everything is more logical and organised,” says Jansone-Ratinika.

Getting accustomed to supercomputing

Sīle emphasises that the use of supercomputing can be complex, if just for the reason that the technology differs significantly from others. For example, typical supercomputing means typing the command into a command line on a black screen.

“Working in education, I have noticed that this field is like putting a cat in a bath. It scratches you the first 10 times, but then starts getting in the bath of its own accord. In these courses, we try and get students used to this black screen and writing commands into a command line,” says Sīle.

Lauris Cikovskis, Head of the Riga Technical University (RTU) High Performance Computing Centre, reveals that they hope to develop a high-performance computing platform to lower the need of having to use this technology. To continue the metaphor, we will no longer have to get the cat used to getting in the bath — instead, it will be fed with warm milk from a beautiful, convenient dish.

“The platform will have a user-friendly interface which students can conveniently access with their university email address to view everything offered by RTU and UL and select the computing resources they need. Our aim is to show businesses that the use of a supercomputer is not so complicated,” says Cikovskis.

Source: Anda Asere (www.labsoflatvia.com)
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