Deepika is an undergraduate of Faculty of Arts, University of Peradeniya. She did Arts for Advanced level, focuses on Management in the university and blogs on almost all the subjects in both English and Sinhala under the name "deeps". You can follow her blog via http://myworldmywaysmyideas.blogspot.com and on twitter @deepsishere
 

UNICODE on its way to the Faculty of Arts, University of Peradeniya

06/28/2010 12:40 am By Deepika Priyadharshani | Articles: 2

When it comes to universities, assignments are the number one headache for students.. To make the matters worse, some courses require assignments to be typed in the prescribed font with the given guidelines for margins, line spaces etc. For the English medium student, this is not a big deal because, he / she has the alphabet nicely printed in the keyboard itself.

But, when the assignments are not allowed to be handwritten, the inability and unaffordability to typeset in Sinhala makes the students deviate from the established standard. Even though some students put an effort to type the assignments in Sinhala, they face difficulties when it comes to the point of getting printouts due to the unavailability of the Sinhala fonts at the printing center.

From the very beginning of our university career we observed that a majority of the students had hard time due to their inability to use Sinhala on computer. This issue made us organize this particular workshop, with the intention of facilitating the targeted group of Sinhala medium students of the Faculty of Arts, University of Peradeniya.

Our focus and effort were mainly concentrated on Sinhala Unicode standard.

We pasted notices around faculty and got the help of several departments in collecting the details of the students. By talking with the target group we got to know that their major problems were typing Sinhala and viewing Sinhala web pages. We attempted to make a change in their day to day lives by empowering them with necessary knowledge and skills to use computer technology in their own language.

On 17th of June 2010 , we conducted the workshop at the Information Technology (IT) Center of the University of Peradeniya.


[Image: Chamitha explaining the difference between ASCII and UNICODE]

First we wanted to check their understanding of the issue. By looking at the answers given to our questions, it was clearly visible that They participants had got accustomed to Wijesekara key board and the Bindumathie font. Unicode was unheard of.

Prabath and Chamitha had a big task ahead. They were to tell participants about Unicode and help them in using Sinhala in computers .

Starting with the ASCII Vs Unicode story, they went on to talk about using Unicode in phones and the web. (The presentation they used for the workshop can be viewed here)

Main points touched at the workshop were,

  • Different standards used in typing in Sinhala (ASCII and Unicode)
  • Advantages of using Unicode
  • Using Sinhala as the main language in the Operating System
  • Using Sinhala in mobile phones
  • Installing Unicode pack in windows
  • Using Sinhala in the world wide web
  • Using the Google search engine in Sinhala
  • Making use of the famous web sites like Wikipedia in Sinhala
  • How to translate web pages from English to Sinhala
  • Using the Sri Lankan made web resources like Sasrutha search engine
  • Unicode converters and transliteration
  • qsFOX add-on for firefox
  • Sinhala Blogging


[Image: Prabath helping the participants to solve their problems]

At the end of the workshop , the participants knew how to apply the Unicode standard in Academic and non Academic settings . The conventional idea that using Internet was confirmed only to the English fluent users, was discarded. The participants vehemently agreed upon the fact that now they can surf the Internet and write Sinhala blogs, so less fluency in English won’t become a barrier to utilize the advanced technology.

Things to ponder about......

At the end of the day, we noticed how the lack of the computer skills made the students spend lot of money and time in vain. The particular problem with the faculty of Arts, as we think, is the general notion in the wide society that arts students are a good for nothing crowd. But, we noticed that if they have somebody to help them solve their problems, they would be good in computers just like the students in science and maths streams. Their university curriculum may contain lessons on word processing and creating presentations, but they should go beyond that. Installing a program was like magic for them; it shouldn't be. They must be motivated to walk a step ahead. All the students may not be interested in walking the extra step, but at least, we should help the few who are willing to do it.

language barrier is another issue they have. Improving English is a must, yet, We think, this is where the localization should make its appearance.

We were just 4 friends in the faculty of Arts doing a group project for one of our assignments. So we couldn't help all the students who are in need of this kind of very customized assistance in computing. Nevertheless, we felt that we made a change.

A project is a conversion process in which the input is being transformed into an output. The input in this specific project was 40 students with little knowledge about Unicode.

The workshop functioned as a training program in which the students were given the chance to improve their capacities in using Sinhala in computers. This transformation results in the final out put ; ie ; the student with a new knowledge and improved skills.

We are indebted to Chamitha Rathnayaka and Prabath Ranasinghe from the faculty of Engineering for their contribution as resource persons, management of the IT Center for providing us with necessary hardware and software resources and the departments in the faculty of arts for their support.


[Image: An attentive participant listening to one of the organizers]

 

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