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Using the Local Dialect to Teach R Programming

By January 21, 2022April 21st, 2022Blog

Tell us about yourself

My name is Dattijo Murtala Makama, I am currently working as a Senior Software Engineer at the National Center for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (NCAIR). I majored in Applied Mathematics and Machine Learning. I have been the Lead Organizer for Bauchi R User Group for the past 3 years. Furthermore, I have experience working with Machine Learning technology and also community organization.

What is the R community like in Nigeria?

The R community is still young and vibrant. In July 2018 when I started the R user group in Bauchi after I exchanged some emails with the then Director of R Consortium, Mr. Joseph Rickert, we had only 3 R user groups in Nigeria. But now we have over 10 user groups. More needs to be done to capture young developers and bring them to learn R programming, but we’re making progress.

How has COVID affected your ability to connect with members? In the past year, did you have to change your techniques to connect and collaborate with members? For example, did you use GitHub, video conferencing, online discussion groups more? Can these techniques be used to make your group more inclusive to people that are unable to attend physical events in the future?  

The pandemic pretty much brought almost everyone to a halt. Our community was hit by the pandemic as well. We had to improvise via WhatsApp. Some community members who live in the same neighborhood do meet, program, and have mini-workshops. Generally, we still had to follow the trend of utilizing virtual platforms. We had tried different approaches in order to make our meetups possible despite the pandemic. We utilized exchanging scripts via WhatsApp as we have a very vibrant WhatsApp group for Bauchi RUG. We later changed to hybrid events as the social distancing measures were being relaxed.

What trends do you see in R language affecting your organization over the next year?

In the coming year, I see organizations and schools adapting to use R programming in many data analysis projects. We did a few outreaches this year and the attendance was impressive. 

Also, using our local language to teach R is becoming more important. This year we had facilitators from Horizon IT Services who taught R programming in Hausa to our community members. Numerous researches have shown that the use of the first language in the second-language classroom helps students make connections with their existing knowledge of the mother tongue, thus facilitating the process of better understanding. This is the reason why we adopt the Hausa language as a medium of instruction in teaching R programming language to our members. In addition, we’re based in the Northern part of Nigeria, where many of its inhabitants struggle to understand English as compared to the Southern part of the country.

We believe this will empower our local community and increase interest. And we intend to continue next year. Moreover, we are following the footsteps of the LatinR community whose member, Yanina Bellini, teaches R programming in Spanish in order to facilitate a better understanding of R within the Americas. As a result of which, she recorded a significant increase in terms of participation at their meetups. And we have also recorded some impressive numbers as well.

Of the Funded Projects by the R Consortium, do you have a favorite project? Why is it your favorite?

Well, actually I have 2 favorite projects: Improving translation in R. This is because language serves as a barrier to getting many people to get started learning to program in R. Having documentation in other languages could help attract lots of people to programming in R.

Secondly Setting up an R-girls-schools network, we need to give more women the opportunity to learn data science because the statistics show that women are not well represented. By exposing young girls to R programming we can improve the participation of women in data science.

Of the Active Working Groups, which is your favorite?  Why is it your favorite?

R/medicine is my favorite active working group. I have always wanted to apply mathematics to solve medical problems. During my undergrad, I got a freelancing job to analyze Vesicovaginal fistula (VVF) patients’ data. 

When is your next event? Please give details!

The first event of the year is scheduled to hold on 29th January 2022. It’s titled “Getting Started with R programming.” It will serve as an introduction on why and how to get started programming in R. We’ll also use the opportunity to announce the registration for our next R for Data Science Study Jam. But we’ll be focusing on tutoring R programming in Hausa as well as collaborating with women in data science in order to attract as many women as we can.