Challenges in Enabling Technological Education in Indian Languages
“For technical education to be effective in Indian languages, we will need to address some fundamental challenges apart from subject-specific ones.”
Education is a continuous process. The programs are revised periodically to include recent advances. Students who graduate also continue to learn and contribute to advancements in their areas of expertise or interest. The most prevalent channel for this continuous learning is now the digital medium. The new national education policy (NEP) emphasizes the use of digital media for access to textbooks and knowledge repositories. Technological education in Indian languages will not be a one-time need, but an ongoing need. The challenges are quite different from that of English.
The Internet is already the greatest means of accessing knowledge and information on almost any subject for readers of any age or profession. This ubiquitous status of the internet is however still quite limited to the English language for Indians. It is a known fact that only 0.1% of content on the internet is in Indian languages.
The challenges of enabling education in Indian languages are not about:
- Simple translations or
- Creation of digital repositories of books or videos alone.
It is much more important to understand what makes the commitment to knowledge and information in any language effective in the digital medium. Students, professionals, and anyone in general looking for information need to be able to find and read.
Parallels between the evolution of knowledge resources in English and Indian languages
The success of English on the Internet certainly has some essential insights to offer. Internet came to India in 1995. The readership in India was completely offline. Outside of academics, the English readership was negligible. Bookstores had large native language collections. Researchers have visited physical libraries to consult books and periodicals that may be rare, expensive or varied. Over the past two and a half decades, with greater access to digital devices and the Internet, much of this behavior has changed. Visits to physical libraries have almost disappeared. In addition to trying to read, researchers are also contributing more actively, not only in societies and scientific articles, but also in communities or personal blogs. This change happened for all academics who could use the Internet in English.
Indian language readership has continued to rely on offline reading and publishing. Whatever the digital edition, it remained almost hidden, untraceable or even unusable (for example, if a researcher wishes to copy and quote an extract or modify it, most of the content published in Indian language is in non-standard formats and ambiguous).
The use of English on the Internet has been successful in a country like India with only 5% fluent English speakers are as follows
- The English alphabet is uniform across the world (26 letters represented in upper or lower case)
- The keyboards have been designed “for” English (the QWERTY keyboard for all digital devices is in design and behavior, for the English language and adapted for other languages if necessary)
- The display of English text is unobtrusive, unambiguous and offers attractive varieties (Font makers can easily create English fonts focusing only on excellent design)
- Linguistic tools are mature and of great help (researchers would like to write correctly and uniformly. Spell checkers, grammar checkers and search engines are very mature in helping authors to create as well as readers to research and easy to read).
For technical education to be effective in Indian languages, we will need to address some fundamental challenges apart from subject-specific ones.
Below is a set to get started:
- The different languages must use only the letters of the alphabet of the language taught in primary schools. This should be standardized. One might wonder why this should even matter. This is because Unicode does not encode characters based on languages. It introduces many foreign characters which confuse Indian language users.
- Terms used in technical subjects should be standardized. These do not necessarily have to be translated. Technical terms or nomenclature are new to every researcher learning the subject and “must” be consistent for better understanding and communication of the subject in more than one language. A scholar fluent in English and Telugu, explaining a concept in Telugu will find it much easier and more consistent to use the same names and terms that he learned in English and vice versa.
- The spelling of all terms and nomenclature should be standardized. This is especially important when the nomenclature of non-Indian languages (Latin, French, English, etc.) is written in Indian languages. There is no standardized spelling and researchers may write differently. This will make document discovery difficult or inefficient.
For NEP implementation to be successful and transparent, it is important that we view language implementation as an infrastructural metric rather than an afterthought with no standardized plan that can be executed uniformly across school boards, central and state universities and colleges.