Challenges In Enabling Technology Education In Indian Languages

"For technical education to be effective in Indian languages, we will have to solve some fundamental challenges apart from subject-specific ones."

Education is a continuous process. The curriculums get revised periodically to include recent advances. Students who graduate, also continue to learn and contribute to the advances in their fields of expertise or interest. The most pervasive channel for this continuous learning now has been the digital medium. The new National Education Policy (NEP) emphasises the use of the digital medium for access to curriculum books and knowledge repositories. Technology education in Indian languages will not be a one time need but a continuous one. The challenges are quite different from that of English.

Internet is already the single largest medium of access to knowledge and information on almost any subject for readers of any age or profession. This ubiquitous status of the internet, however, is still quite limited to the English language for Indians. It is a known fact that only 0.1 per cent of content on the internet is in Indian languages. 

The challenges of enabling education in Indian languages are not about:

  • Mere translations or
  • Creation of digital repositories of books or videos alone.

It is a lot more important to understand what makes the engagement for knowledge and information in any language effective in the digital medium. Students, professionals and anyone in general seeking information must be able to find and read. 

Parallels between the evolution of English knowledge resources v/s Indian languages 

The success of English on the internet certainly has some essential pointers to offer. The Internet came to India in 1995. Readership in India was entirely offline. Outside of academics, English readership was negligible. Book stores had large native language collections. Scholars went to physical libraries to refer to books and periodicals that may be rare, expensive or varied. In the past two and a half decades, with better access to digital devices and the internet, much of this behaviour has changed. Visits to physical libraries have almost disappeared. Apart from trying to read, scholars also contribute more actively, not just in scientific societies and papers, but also in communities or personal blogs. This shift happened for all scholars who could use the internet in English. 

The Indian language readership continued to depend on offline reading and publishing. Whatever digital publishing happened, remained almost hidden, undiscoverable or even unusable (for example, if a scholar would like to copy and quote an extract or edit the same, most of the Indian language published contents are in formats that are non-standard and ambiguous).

The use of English on the internet has been successful in a country like India with only 5 per cent fluent English speakers are the following

  1. English alphabet is uniform across the globe (26 letters that are represented in upper or lower case)
  2. The keyboards were designed 'for' English (The QWERTY keyboard for all digital devices is in design and behaviour, for the English language and adapted for other languages as needed)
  3. The English text display is discrete, unambiguous and offers attractive varieties (Font makers can create English fonts easily by focusing only on great design)
  4. Language tools are matured and of great assistance (scholars would like to write correctly and uniformly. Spell checkers, grammar checkers and search engines are very mature to help authors to create as well as readers to search and read easily).

For technical education to be effective in Indian languages, we will have to solve some fundamental challenges apart from subject-specific ones. 

Below is a set to begin with:

  1. The various languages must use only the letters from the alphabet of the language as taught in primary schools. This must be standardised. One may ask why this should even be important. It is because Unicode does not encode characters based on languages. It introduces a lot of extraneous characters which create confusion for Indian language users.
  2. Terms used within technical subjects must be standardised. These need not necessarily be translated. Technical terms or nomenclature are new for each scholar learning the subject and “must” be uniform for a better understanding and communication on the subject in more than one language. A scholar fluent in English and Telugu, explaining a concept in Telugu will find it a lot easier and consistent in using the same names and terms that he learnt in English and vice versa.
  3. The spellings of all terms and nomenclature must be standardised. This is especially important when nomenclature from non-Indian languages (Latin, French, English etc.)  are written in Indian languages. There is no standardised spelling and scholars may write differently. This will make documents’ discovery difficult or inefficient.

For NEP implementation to be successful and seamless it is important that we take languages’ implementation as an infrastructural metric rather than an afterthought with no standardised blueprint which can be uniformly executed across education boards, central and state universities and colleges.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

Tags assigned to this article:
technical education language NEP 2020 Indian Languages

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