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Language Matters

Malayalam Computing സംരംഭത്തില്‍ നിന്ന്

Dr Ajaykumar IAS,
Secretary to Government, Department of IT, Government of Kerala

The use of ICTs in fulfilling Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is one of the goals set by World Summit on Information society (WSIS). Bridging the digital divide is one of the most challenging issues of the emerging knowledge society. One of the biggest obstacles for non-English speaking population of India is that computing has become synonymous with English. Moreover, most of the content on the Internet is also in English. Be it shopping or getting information on health or tourism, most websites provide contents in English. This has discouraged the computer-illiterates and neo-literates from actively using the computers and benefiting from it. Moreover, it is also one of the main reasons for digital divide between genders, with men being more familiar with English then women. Government of Kerala, which undertook a hundred percent computer-literacy campaign “Akshaya” is now taking a leadership role by embarking on a new initiative with the objective of creating capacity and content in the local language – Malayalam. This would go a long stead in the effort to reach the benefits of information technology to every household in the society.

Apart from bridging digital dive, the campaign has significant cultural implications. Language is an important part of the identity of any society. When the daily chat or emailing is invariably in English, the native language is progressively disused and gets corrupted. For example, English script is used to write Malayalam (also popularly known as Manglish). The year 2008 is being celebrated globally as the year of languages by the United Nations. The Government of Kerala is joining the international community with a campaign to promote the linguistic diversity of cyberspace and would be an example to other linguistically diverse societies to have similar campaigns. It would sensitize the global community to recognize the imperative of digital world protecting the distinct cultural richness and heritage as transmitted through centuries, in respective local languages.

With the help of UNICODE and UNICODE supported software, one can create and share information in Malayalam. Though UNICODE was available for quite some time, its adoption was limited. Free software for computers has been supporting Malayalam since 2001. Proprietary software like Windows started supporting Malayalam only in 2004. Today, most computer software support Malayalam. However, since inception the training on computers has been highly prejudiced in favor of English. As a result, even today, most people, who are learning to use computers till believe that English is the language of the computers.

Malayalam computing campaign is being lead by the Department of IT, Government of Kerala. The main agencies implementing the campaign shall be the Kerala State IT Mission (KSITM), Akshaya and SPACE. With the help of about 3000 Akshaya centres network, public awareness programmes will be carried out across the state. Each Akshaya centre reaches approximately 1200-1500 families. The campaign targets to address about 40-50 lakh households in the state of Kerala over the next three years. Akshaya centers in association with local community organizations and local self governments will organize awareness and capacity building programmes in different localities for public. Capacity building programmes for local hardware vendors are also planned in each district as well. Teaching computing in Malayalam will be made an essential part of all computer courses in school.

As part of the campaign, publicity will be carried out through various mass media including audio (FM radio), visual (TV, cinema) and print (newspapers, magazines). Booklets with technical information on Malayalam computing will be distributed across the state. A support website is being established for the distribution of essential software, training materials and other documentations.

The campaign shall be followed by several activities to increase Malayalam content on the web. Each local panchayat shall be asked to develop a local portal in Malayalam which would include details of local natural and human resources, local economy, local industry, agriculture and services, discussion forum and such other details as may be relevant. As an incentive, suitable awards shall be granted to the best panchayt portals. An example of one such is a portal developed in Azhikode Panchayat developed with the active participation of the local Panchayat, Akshaya centres in the Panchahat and local community (http://azhikode.web4all.in/). Government will facilitate development of these portals by providing sever space in its State Data Center.

Similarly, all high schools and colleges in the state will be encouraged to develop their portals in Malayalam on lines described above. District level and state level awards for best portals shall be granted. Other groups like libraries, NGOs and web developers are also proposed to be engaged in this effort.

Activities so far

On World Mother Language day, 21st Feb 2008, Kerala State IT Mission announced the launch of this campaign in a small function held in Trivandrum. The Logo and the Handbook created for this campaign were released on the same occasion by the distinguished Malayalam poet Mr. V. Madhusudhanan Nair. The campaign shall be started in Kannur district in north Kerala. A group of 12 master trainers from Kannur have already completed training of trainers from all the Akshaya centers in Kannur (170 centers). By mid May 2008, all Akshaya centers in Kannur district will be totally Malayalam computing enabled. An ad film and a documentary are being created featuring famous Malayalam film actor, Suresh Gopi. Website and training videos are also under final stages of finalization and testing.

Formal Launch

The Computing in Malayalam Campaign is being formally launched on May 8, 2008 in Kannur district by Shri V.S. Achuthanandan, Hon’ble Chief Minister of Kerala. Several other Ministers and dignitaries from the literary and cultural fields are likely to be present. Many like-minded organizations in the field of ICT and international bodies looking to use ICTs for development have already extended support to the campaign.

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