Saturday October 21, 2017

Assamese want recognition for their script in computer coding

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Guwahati: The rich history of Assam from the times of Brahmi script in Guptan times to the rock inscriptions and copper plates of fourth and fifth centuries has the ability to convince the US-based Unicode Consortium to give it a sperate slot for its script and remove computational intricacies in using it in the digital age.

The Unicode Consortium, that gives languages a set of universal characters for use in computers, identifies Assamese as another form of Bengali script, making its use difficult in the digital world.

The Assam government recently submitted to the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) that it is a historically evolved script with its own set of characters and symbols representing written texts. But the non-inclusion of this in Unicode and ISO standards has triggered problems in using the language in computers.

During the initial days of digital standards for the Indian Languages in the first Indian Script Code for Information Interchange (ISCII) released by BIS in December 1991, a clear mention was made of the Assamese script. The ISCII document released by BIS clearly mentioned that the northern scripts are Devnagari, Punjabi, Gujarati, Oriya, Bengali, and Assamese, while the southern scripts are Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, and Tamil, an official said.

“However, in all subsequent standards like ISO and Unicode, Assamese script has not been included,” said the official, who is on the panel constituted by the Assam government to push its case for a separate slot on the Unicode, but who did not wish to be identified.

Literary bodies, academicians, and researchers in Assam had objected to the Unicode Consortium move and written to the union government. The Assam government was then asked to submit a detailed proposal that would subsequently be referred to the US body.

While literary bodies such as Asom Sahitya Sabha (ASS) had maintained that the Assamese language was being neglected, Satyakam Phukan, a surgeon who has researched the origin of the Assamese script, said it could be due to lack of knowledge of the US-body about the uniqueness of the script.

“The Assamese alphabets were not separately encoded by Unicode. Following their policy of unification, the Assamese script was eclipsed into Bengali. The uniqueness of the Assamese script was perhaps unknown to the mainly American experts of Unicode,” Phukan told IANS.

The Assam government’s proposal to BIS went deeper into the origin of the script to push for a separate slot for the local language.

“The Assamese script is one of the important scripts of Eastern India. Assamese script is originated from the Brahmi script of the Gupta age. Studies of the rock inscriptions and copper plate inscriptions of the 4th, 5th and later centuries, discovered in different parts of Assam, clearly indicate that the Assamese script is the evolutionary resultant of the scripts used in rock and copper plate inscriptions and other objects like coins and clay seals of Nalanda,” the Assam government’s proposal to the BIS said.

“The evolution of this Assamese script can be divided into three different stages: Old Assamese script or the Kamrupi script (4th/5th to 13th century); Medieval Assamese script (13th to early part of 19th century) and Modern script from the early part of the nineteenth century,” the proposal said.

It further said that the Assamese script started to take its modern form in the early part of the 13th century as evident from the Kanai-Barashibowa rock inscriptions in north Guwahati.

The script received its modern form when the missionaries started printed books and magazines in the early 19th century. The first printed book in Assamese was “Dharmapustak”, a translation of the Bible by Atmaram Sarma from Kaliabar in Assam, published in 1813.

“In the digital world, to use a language as the medium of information, we must have all the characters and symbols with proper codes. The Assamese script has got its own set of characters and symbols, and these are required to have assigned codes for proper usage in terms of computational tasks, application development etc. The language, a major Indian language recognized in the eighth schedule of the Constitution of India, has got its own script, the Script, having its own historical evolution,” the proposal mentioned.

The Assamese language, a major Indian language recognized in the eighth schedule of the Constitution of India, has got its own script, the Assamese Script, having its own historical evolution,” the proposal mentioned.

Ranjan Kumar Baruah, a Guwahati-based social entrepreneur, said a separate slot for its script was necessary for promoting the language in the digital age.

“This is necessary at a time when our state government asked all business establishments, government and non-government organizations to use the local language in hoardings and banners and for other official purposes,” Baruah said.(IANS)

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Just in! Like Computer Software, Scientists can now Programme Cells in your Body to Fight Diseases!

Scientists found that RNA which is produced abundantly by humans, plants and animals can be genetically engineered to allow scientists to programme cells with specific commands

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Programme cells
Scientists have found that cells can be programmed with pre-defined RNA commands, in the manner of a computer's microprocessor VOA

London, September 19, 2017 : A new technique can help programme cells like a computer to fight cancer, influenza, and other serious conditions, suggests new research.

A common molecule — ribonucleic acid (RNA), which is produced abundantly by humans, plants and animals — can be genetically engineered to allow scientists to programme cells, said the study published in the journal Nucleic Acids Research.

RNAs carry information between protein and DNA in cells, and the research proved that these molecules can be produced and organised into tailor-made sequences of commands — similar to codes for computer software — which feed specific instructions into cells, programming them to do what we want.

ALSO READ SAME CONDITION: A Health Initiative to Build a Patient-to-Patient Network Worldwide

Cells have the capacity to process and respond to instructions and codes inputted into their main system, said lead researcher Alfonso Jaramillo, Professor at University of Warwick in Britain.

Similar to software running on a computer, or apps on a mobile device, many different RNA sequences could be created to empower cells with a ‘Virtual Machine’, able to interpret a universal RNA language, and to perform specific actions to address different diseases or problems, the study said.

This will allow a novel type of personalised and efficient healthcare, allowing us to ‘download’ a sequence of actions into cells, instructing them to execute complex decisions encoded in the RNA.

The researchers made their invention by first modelling all possible RNA sequence interactions on a computer, and then constructing the DNA encoding the optimal RNA designs, to be validated on bacteria cells in the laboratory.

After inducing the bacterial cells to produce the genetically engineered RNA sequences, the researchers observed that they had altered the gene expression of the cells according to the RNA programme — demonstrating that cells can be programmed with pre-defined RNA commands, in the manner of a computer’s microprocessor.

ALSO READ Zika Virus Fight: FDA Plans To Exterminate Disease With Genetically Modified Mosquitoes

“The capabilities of RNA molecules to interact in a predictable manner, and with alternative conformations, has allowed us to engineer networks of molecular switches that could be made to process arbitrary orders encoded in RNA,” Jaramillo said.

As well as fighting disease and injury in humans, scientists could harness this technique to control plant cells and reverse environmental and agricultural issues, making plants more resilient to disease and pests.

“Throughout last year, my group has been developing methodologies to enable RNA sensing the environment, perform arithmetic computations and control gene expression without relying on proteins, which makes the system universal across all living kingdoms,” Jaramillo said.

“The cells could read the RNA ‘software’ to perform the encoded tasks, which could make the cells detect abnormal states, infections, or trigger developmental programmes,” he added.  (IANS)

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EXCLUSIVE: Vishwanath Sanskrit Vidyalaya in Delhi is trying to keep the Cultural Roots Alive in Students through Sanskrit Language

What makes this Sanskrit School different from others?

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Chintamanni Vedpathi with students
Chintamanni Vedpathi with students. Youtube
  • Vishwanath Sanskrit Vidyalaya  is one of the oldest Sanskrit Institutions in Delhi
  • Students wear white dhoti and shirt, they greet their guru or teacher by clasping their hands together
  • The Sri Vishwanath Sanyas Ashram takes care of the student’s  food by providing them with free food and they also stay in hostel free of cost  

New Delhi, August 30, 2017: There is a school in Delhi away from the overdose of technology and westernization. This school is trying to strengthen the roots of Indian culture by giving the gyan (knowledge) of Sanskrit to their students.

Reporter Kritika Dua got in touch with the teachers of Vishwanath Sanskrit Vidyalaya– Jai Prakash Mishra and Rajendra Sharma to know what is so special about this Delhi-based School. To get the taste of the pattern that this school follows, she spoke with students- Virender Tiwari and Pushpendra Chaturvedi who shared some interesting anecdotes about the school.

This Sanskrit Vidyalaya is one of the oldest Sanskrit Institutions in Delhi, where classes begin at 11 am and end at 4.10 p.m. The school has produced many Sanskrit scholars in the past and it is run by Sri Vishwanath Sanyas Ashram, which is located just opposite to the school.

On entering the classroom, you can see students wearing white dhoti and shirt, students greet their guru or teacher by clasping their hands together and sit on the carpeted floor while learning at the Vidyalaya.

One of the teachers at this school, Jai Prakash Mishra said, “around 55-60 students stay in the hostel, rest of them come from other areas in Delhi to study here. The ones who stay in hostel come from different states like Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Rajasthan.”

Entrance of Vishwanath Sanskrit Vidyalaya, Delhi.
Entrance of Vishwanath Sanskrit Vidyalaya, Delhi

Students having interest in learning the ancient language of India are welcome in this school, no matter which part of the country they belong to. The only requirement is to be a good shisya (pupil) – he should be serious towards education, ready to lead a disciplined life and should be hard-working.

Mishra added, “the Sri Vishwanath Sanyas Ashram takes care of the student’s  food by providing them with free food and they also stay in hostel free of cost.” There are 10 teachers currently in this school.

Volleyball Court in School Playground
Volleyball Court in School Playground

The students play Volleyball and Cricket in the school playground though there is no sports teacher in the school. Rajendra Sharma, Hindi teacher said, “The students here can get the education -9th class and 10th class called purva madhyama, 11th and 12th called uttar madhyama, till graduation called Shastri though they get a post-graduation degree from the school. The degree they get is from Sampurnanand Sanskrit Vishwavidyalaya (SSVV), Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh as the school is affiliated with this university.”

The School teaches other subjects apart from Sanskrit like Hindi, history, science, English literature, English Grammar, law etc.  Sharma told about his expectations from the students, “Our students are preserving Indian Culture by learning Sanskrit. I wish that they have a bright future ahead.”

ALSO READ: Move to Make Sanskrit Classes Mandatory Raises Ruckus in Assam

The students of this all boy’s school have short cropped hair which is sometimes shaven heads with tufts of hair at the back. They are rooted in Indian culture which can be seen through their behavior, good manners, dressing and talking sense.

Rahul Shukla, a 9th class student said that he can recite shlokas perfectly and wants to be a Shastri when he grows up. Vishwanath Sanskrit Vidyalaya has branches in Haridwar, Varanasi, Shimla, Kolkata, Mount Abu, and Bikaner.

Virender Tiwari (19) is pursuing graduation from this school and here the B.A first year course is called Shastriya Pratham, and he will become a Shastri after he completes his graduation. Tiwari said, “my experience has been extremely enriching in this school so far, all the knowledge I have of Sanskrit is because of what I have been taught here.”

Pushpendra Chaturvedi completed his graduation last year, now he lives in Dilshad Garden and is a priest in a temple. Pushpendra said, “I came to this school in the 9th standard, this school did a lot for me and I have fond memories of this place. I want to pursue B.ED and become a Sanskrit teacher.”

He talked about the ex-principal of the school, Ram Sarmukh Dwivedi, 95 years old Mahatma. He was a Sanskrit  Scholar and had in depth knowledge of Sanskrit language, literature, and ‘Ved Puran’. The current Principal of this unique Sanskrit school is Dr. Brahmachari Balram.


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Can Use of Computers Enrich a Teacher’s Work and a Student’s Performance?

Use of technology in schools encourages personalized learning and it has been gaining popularity in recent years

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Jahiem Johnson, 13, left, helps classmate Kamya Saunders, 13, as they work on an English passage during class at the Washington Leadership Academy in Washington, Aug. 23, 2017. The school utilizes
Jahiem Johnson, 13, left, helps classmate Kamya Saunders, 13, as they work on an English passage during class at the Washington Leadership Academy in Washington, Aug. 23, 2017. The school utilizes "personalized learning." VOA
  •  The International Association for K-12 Online Learning estimates that up to 10 percent of all America’s public schools have adopted some form of personalized learning
  • The economy needs kids who are creative problem solvers
  • The digital tool tells us: We have a problem to fix with these kids right here and we can do it right then and there

Washington, USA, August 28, 2017: In middle school, Junior Alvarado often struggled with multiplication and earned poor grades in math, so when he started his freshman year at Washington Leadership Academy, a charter high school in the nation’s capital, he fretted that he would lag behind.

But his teachers used a computer to identify his weak spots, customize a learning plan just for him and coach him through it. This past week, as Alvarado started sophomore geometry, he was more confident in his skills.

“For me, personalized learning is having classes set at your level,” Alvarado, 15, said in between lessons. “They explain the problem step by step, it wouldn’t be as fast, it will be at your pace.”

As schools struggle to raise high school graduation rates and close the persistent achievement gap for minority and low-income students, many educators tout digital technology in the classroom as a way forward. But experts caution that this approach still needs more scrutiny and warn schools and parents against being overly reliant on computers.

The use of technology in schools is part of a broader concept of personalized learning that has been gaining popularity in recent years. It’s a pedagogical philosophy centered around the interests and needs of each individual child as opposed to universal standards. Other features include flexible learning environments, customized education paths and letting students have a say in what and how they want to learn.

Also Read: US Public Schools are Teaching Arabic Language and Receiving Aid from Qatar Foundation International, But Why?

Personalized learning

Under the Obama administration, the Education Department poured $500 million into personalized learning programs in 68 school districts serving close to a half million students in 13 states plus the District of Columbia. Large organizations such as the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation have also invested heavily in digital tools and other student-centered practices.

The International Association for K-12 Online Learning estimates that up to 10 percent of all America’s public schools have adopted some form of personalized learning. Rhode Island plans to spend $2 million to become the first state to make instruction in every one of its schools individualized. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos also embraces personalized learning as part of her broader push for school choice.

Supporters say the traditional education model, in which a teacher lectures at the blackboard and then tests all students at the same time, is obsolete and doesn’t reflect the modern world.

“The economy needs kids who are creative problem solvers, who synthesize information, formulate and express a point of view,” said Rhode Island Education Commissioner Ken Wagner. “That’s the model we are trying to move toward.”

At Washington Leadership Academy, educators rely on software and data to track student progress and adapt teaching to enable students to master topics at their own speed.

Digital tool finds problem

This past week, sophomores used special computer programs to take diagnostic tests in math and reading, and teachers then used that data to develop individual learning plans. In English class, for example, students reading below grade level would be assigned the same books or articles as their peers, but complicated vocabulary in the text would be annotated on their screen.

“The digital tool tells us: We have a problem to fix with these kids right here and we can do it right then and there; we don’t have to wait for the problem to come to us,” said Joseph Webb, founding principal at the school, which opened last year.

Webb, dressed in a green T-shirt reading “super school builder,” greeted students Wednesday with high-fives, hugs, and humor. “Red boxers are not part of our uniform!” he shouted to one student, who responded by pulling up his pants.

The school serves some 200 predominantly African-American students from high-poverty and high-risk neighborhoods. Flags of prestigious universities hang from the ceiling and a “You are a leader” poster is taped to a classroom door. Based on a national assessment last year, the school ranked in the 96th percentile for improvement in math and in the 99th percentile in reading compared with schools whose students scored similarly at the beginning of the year.

It was one of 10 schools to win a $10 million grant in a national competition aimed at reinventing American high schools that are funded by Lauren Powell Jobs, widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs.

Also Read: New York City wants to be the Next American Tech Powerhouse by tripling its Investment in Programs for Computer Science Students

‘Female Bill Gates’

Naia McNatt, a lively 15-year-old who hopes to become “the African-American and female Bill Gates,” remembers feeling so bored and unchallenged in fourth grade that she stopped doing homework and her grades slipped.

At the Academy, “I don’t get bored ‘cause I guess I am pushed so much,” said McNatt, a sophomore. “It makes you need to do more, you need to know more.”

In math class, McNatt quickly worked through quadratic equations on her laptop. When she finished, the system spat out additional, more challenging problems.

Her math teacher, Britney Wray, says that in her previous school she was torn between advanced learners and those who lagged significantly. She says often she wouldn’t know if a student was failing a specific unit until she started a new one.

In comparison, the academy’s technology now gives Wray instant feedback on which students need help and where. “We like to see the problem and fix the problem immediately,” she said.

Still, most researchers say it is too early to tell if personalized learning works better than traditional teaching.

A recent study by the Rand Corporation found that personalized learning produced modest improvements: a 3 percentile increase in math and a smaller, statistically insignificant increase in reading compared with schools that used more traditional approaches. Some students also complained that collaboration with classmates suffered because everybody was working on a different task.

“I would not advise for everybody to drop what they are doing and adopt personalized learning,” said John Pane, a co-author of the report. “A more cautious approach is necessary.”

New challenges

The new opportunities also pose new challenges. Pediatricians warn that too much screen time can come at the expense of face-to-face social interaction, hands-on exploration, and physical activity. Some studies also have shown that students may learn better from books than from computer screens, while another found that keeping children away from the computer for five days in a row improved their emotional intelligence.

Some teachers are skeptical. Marla Kilfoyle, executive director of the Badass Teachers Association, an education advocacy group, agrees that technology has its merits, but insists that no computer or software should ever replace the personal touch, motivation and inspiration teachers give their students.

“That interaction and that human element are very important when children learn,” Kilfoyle said. (VOA)