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Technology & Innovation

Native-Language Computers Are Bringing More Asians Online

Since 2003, a group of experts has been working to connect computers and the Internet to the vast majority of Asia-Pacific residents who lack proficiency in English. The impact of their efforts is just now starting to be seen.

What’s the Latest Development?

Citizens in rural Nepal, Cambodia, and nine other Asian countries have greater-than-ever access to the Internet and all its benefits, thanks to the efforts of the PAN Localization Program, also known as PANL10n. Since 2003, this group of software engineers, linguists, and sociologists has been working to configure computers for native languages. Now, according to project coordinator Sarmad Hussain, the digital divide between rural and urban citizens, and between non-English and English users, is closing fast. For example, Pakistan is encouraging computer instruction at earlier ages, because students can learn in their own languages. Also, the government of Bhutan has begun a program where rural citizens can comfortably complete official forms online.

What’s the Big Idea?

Fewer than 10 percent of residents in the Asia-Pacific region have the English skills needed to use the Internet, and most of them live in urban areas. The remaining 90-plus percent use at least one of over 3,500 different languages. Hussain says that when they see what computers and the Internet can do, “[people get] excited that this technology can give them access to many things they don’t have access to right now.” Now that one major barrier is slowly crumbling, expect to see more of the world online than ever before.

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