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It could very well be­come a re­al­ity if Indic lan­guage typ­ing is in­tro­duced in school cur­ricu­lum


The dig­i­tal ini­tia­tive of the gov­ern­ment will be a non-starter un­less it is de­liv­ered in 22 ma­jor and over a hun­dred mi­nor in­dian lan­guages. There is a sat­u­ra­tion of english con­tent on web and hence a grow­ing de­mand for con­sump­tion of con­tent in in­dian lan­guages. The Tech­nol­ogy de­vel­op­ment for in­dian Lan­guages (Tdil) pro­gramme of the gov­ern­ment is a push to­wards lo­cal­is­ing e-gov­er­nance con­tent in 22 in­dian lan­guages. All e-gov­er­nance con­tent needs to be de­liv­ered not only in text mode but also in speech, be­cause that is the only way to en­sure so­cial and dig­i­tal in­clu­sion in ru­ral in­dia, where il­lit­er­acy is still a harsh re­al­ity.

in or­der to dis­man­tle in­for­ma­tion hi­er­ar­chies, both voice and data should be eas­ily avail­able in mul­ti­ple lan­guages. Lo­cal lan­guages are go­ing to be a key in con­vinc­ing next bil­lion users to come on­line.

sec­ond only to the usa, in­dia has over 125 mil­lion english speak­ers. on­line, it is in­dia’s lin­gua franca, but more of its 1.3 bil­lion peo­ple can turn into ne­ti­zens only if the on­line use of its 22 other of­fi­cial lan­guages is en­cour­aged. A re­cent study of 4,612 ur­ban cit­i­zens and 2,448 ru­ral in­di­ans by the man­age­ment con­sul­tancy KPMG in­dia and in­ter­net search gi­ant google found that nearly 70% of in­di­ans con­sider lo­cal lan­guage dig­i­tal con­tent more re­li­able than the english con­tent.

of all in­ter­net us­ing na­tive speak­ers of an in­dian lan­guage, most pre­fer Hindi, the co-of­fi­cial lan­guage of the In­dian union along with english. By 2021 an ex­pected 201 mil­lion Hindi users, 38% of the in­dian in­ter­net user base will be on­line, ac­cord­ing to the Kpmg-google

re­port. Marathi, Ben­gali and Tamil would fol­low cap­tur­ing 9%, 8% and 6% of the user base re­spec­tively.

na­tive lan­guage apps and sites pro­lif­er­ate to make it easier for peo­ple to grasp on­line in­for­ma­tion. More­over, in­creas­ing use of na­tive lan­guages could help chat ap­pli­ca­tions and dig­i­tal plat­forms to deepen their user base.

so, while in­dia is ex­pected to have 536 mil­lion in­dian lan­guage in­ter­net users by 2021, a lot of growth is de­pen­dent on get­ting the non-english speak­ing and non-in­ter­net lit­er­ate au­di­ence on to the World Wide Web.

com­pu­ta­tional lin­guis­tics is a mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary field of study which must be in­tro­duced at school-level across in­dia. stu­dents should be taught to type in lo­cal lan­guages, de­velop pro­grammes which will en­able more and more in­di­ans to come on­line and cir­cum­vent bar­ri­ers to in­ter­net con­nec­tiv­ity like lan­guage and lit­er­acy. We are used to english and when we com­pare the way we type in English, we find it rel­a­tively harder to type in indic. But what about those who weren’t ex­posed to english at all but had the choice to type in an indic lan­guage from the start?

The path­way for dig­i­tal lit­er­acy was laid by the de­vel­op­ment of in­dian script code for in­for­ma­tion in­ter­change (iscii) and was de­vel­oped by the depart­ment of elec­tron­ics (doe) of the gov­ern­ment of in­dia for indic lan­guage pro­cess­ing. iscii com­piled with iso 8-bit code rec­om­men­da­tions and with fur­ther en­hance­ment in the year 1991, it was re­leased by the Bureau of in­dian stan­dards (Bis) and even­tu­ally be­came the de facto stan­dard for in­dian lan­guage data pro­cess­ing. As per an As­socham-deloitte study, when it comes to skill train­ing and dig­i­tal lit­er­acy, less than 3% of the work­force has un­der­gone for­mal train­ing where it iden­ti­fies adop­tion to tech­nol­ogy as a key hin­drance.

in ad­di­tion, while the typ­ing of english is achieved by typ­ing on the ded­i­cated keys, in­dian lan­guage is much more dif­fi­cult given the na­ture of ‘maa­tras’ go­ing omni-di­rec­tional around con­so­nants. This fur­ther dic­tates the ne­ces­sity to teach.

We have lit­er­acy ma­jor­ity in indic lan­guage (>70%), whereas we are still a mi­nor­ity when it comes to english us­age (<10%). so, the indic lan­guage users are un­like ‘us’. it is not triv­ial for any­one lit­er­ate in lo­cal lan­guage to be able to type in their lan­guage. it can be learnt and taught. When type­writ­ers orig­i­nated there was an im­me­di­ate hype for typ­ing lessons in both english and lo­cal lan­guages. A sim­i­lar ap­proach will greatly help in the dig­i­tal medium. There are sev­eral key­boards lay­outs de­signed and made avail­able by dif­fer­ent soft­ware man­u­fac­tur­ers. The most pop­u­lar is the in­script stan­dard de­signed for com­puter key­boards with 101 keys. in­script was de­vel­oped in the late 1980s mak­ing it pos­si­ble to in­put in­dian lan­guage-based on de­vana­gari and eight other lan­guages. The mo­bile key­pads have fewer keys and In­script doesn’t ex­actly fit in. So, there are var­i­ous or dif­fer­ent lay­outs in dif­fer­ent key­boards for mo­bile phones. But, the prin­ci­ple of typ­ing is the same.

Learn­ing these fun­da­men­tals will help any­one to get started with indic typ­ing eas­ily. But, where and how does one get in­tro­duced to the way to type his/her own lan­guage? chil­dren at school level must be in­tro­duced to typ­ing in their lan­guage. it has been many years since com­puter ed­u­ca­tion was in­tro­duced. it be­gins at pre-pri­mary but there is no teach­ing or as­sign­ment in indic lan­guages. stu­dents are ex­pected to work only in english. They are taught about and ex­posed to word pro­cess­ing and draw­ing among other ap­pli­ca­tions but not cre­at­ing or even typ­ing in their own lan­guages.

All schools in in­dia teach lo­cal lan­guages. But it is only in writ­ing. if the world has been mov­ing rapidly into the dig­i­tal medium, why should we not in­tro­duce the same in our school?

Ba­sic typ­ing in in­dian lan­guages needs to be in­cor­po­rated as part of the school cur­ricu­lum. This will help stu­dents fa­mil­iarise them­selves with indic typ­ing. They would not have to stay alien­ated from the dig­i­tal medium lim­ited by lan­guages. The ap­proaches to text cre­ation us­ing as­sisted tools like pre­dic­tion, speech, etc. is very use­ful. in or­der to pro­lif­er­ate the growth of in­dian lan­guages dig­i­tal con­tent, we should train our chil­dren right from a very young age to type in our own lan­guages in dig­i­tal medium. oth­er­wise, we as a coun­try might as well suf­fer the con­se­quences of be­ing dig­i­tally oblit­er­ated when the rest of the world is al­ready in the dig­i­tal age or rapidly mov­ing to­wards it.

Al­most ev­ery new user that is com­ing on­line, roughly nine out of ten, is non-pro­fi­cient in English. Tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ment could aid and en­cour­age the in­creased use of lo­cal lan­guages. Ad­vance voice trans­la­tion and new tech­nol­ogy could help in­dian lan­guage in­ter­net users who find and search nav­i­ga­tion us­ing text in­puts in their re­gional lan­guage a chal­lenge. The game-changer to in­ter­net con­nec­tiv­ity in terms of num­bers is the prospect of more com­pa­nies in­vest­ing in voice-en­abled tech­nolo­gies and lo­cally ap­pro­pri­ate web con­tent. in­ter­net and app com­pa­nies have been in­vest­ing re­sources in mak­ing their ap­pli­ca­tions more rel­e­vant to in­dian lan­guage speak­ing users. The scope of this field is vast and could ap­ply to var­i­ous sec­tors like dig­i­tal ed­u­ca­tion, on­line health ser­vices and other ar­eas of de­vel­op­ment that come un­der the dig­i­tal in­dia ini­tia­tive.

The dig­i­tal in­dia ini­tia­tive might seem like a dream but tech­nolo­gies and peo­ple par­tic­i­pa­tion can make it a re­al­ity.

All schools in In­dia teach lo­cal lan­guages. But it is only in writ­ing. If the world has been mov­ing rapidly into the dig­i­tal medium, why should we not in­tro­duce the same in our school?

Ashish asthana

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