It was a rainy and wintry Saturday afternoon at Bengaluru, unusual weather considering it was the middle of October. A common interest group of 8 academics were meeting at the conference room of the Indian Academy of Sciences located within the renowned Raman Research Institute. These were mostly professors of Physics at various institutes and universities of repute in and around Bengaluru. They had been zealously working on a collaborative project for over a year, attempting to translate and bring out three of the five volumes of the Berkeley Series of Physics courses, which are essentially college level text books, from English to Kannada.
The Berkeley Series was developed in the early 1960s in the West with funding from a National Science Foundation grant. There was an earnest desire to promote science education in response mainly to the Soviet Union launching Sputnik, the world's first artificial satellite a few years before. Published by McGraw Hill, the series consists of five volumes and covers fundamental areas of physics such as Mechanics, Electricity and Magnetism, Waves, Quantum Physics and Statistical Physics. The significance of this series is borne by the fact that it is still being used for honors and degree courses for students choosing physics majors.
To put things in a broader perspective, there is a huge gap in terms of availability of good quality text books and other reference material in Kannada and other Indian languages at the degree and post graduate levels, in most of the subjects. The students who pursue degree or post-graduation after having studied in their native language medium such as Hindi and Kannada up to higher secondary or even degree level, have to inevitably select English medium at the higher education level, leaving them at a huge disadvantage in comparison to those who have had a English medium education right through. The other alternative left to them, which is even worse, is to depend on poorly developed books or guides in their own language.
As a response to this dire scenario, Azim Premji University has taken up the task of making available quality resource material in Hindi and Kannada for teachers and students alike, through its large scale translations initiative. It is looking at the possibility of offering relevant programs for students including working professionals in both these mediums, in the 'Education' domain in the next few years. It is in this larger context that the deliberations of the physics translations group assumes significance.
The physics group meeting initially undertook a meticulous review of the status of translation and vetting and agreed on intensifying their efforts on vetting the translated chapters in the next few months. The process they needed to follow for looking at the translation was agreed upon. The group converged on these delicate issues, as also on shunning independent interpretations by the translators. It was fascinating to see the group evolving certain key principles for translation in a democratic manner.
The other key aspects debated by the group were the feasibility of additionally bringing in a language scholar (preferably with science background again!) to look at the flow of the translation as also making a glossary of specific scientific terms. The members were keen on exchanging notes with a similar team that was engaged in bringing out the Hindi version of the Berkeley series from Indian Institute of Science Education, Mohali, to learn from their experience.
As in Physics, several subject groups of translators across Hindi speaking states and Karnataka have been formed in Biology, Mathematics, Humanities, Economics, History, Philosophy, Sociology, Psychology and so on. The translators, vettors and reviewers bring with them specific subject knowledge and relevant experience of teaching or research. Needless to say, they need to be fairly competent in two languages – English and Hindi or Kannada. Almost everyone who is part of this academic re-creation exercise enrolls voluntarily, as their interest is to align with the larger cause of spreading the knowledge to a larger set of disadvantaged students in remote parts of the state. In Karnataka alone, there are more than 120 persons working in nearly 20 smaller subject groups.
The efforts of the specialists such as the physics group would come to fruition only when the material they develop becomes accessible to thousands of students at the higher education level who are otherwise deprived of good quality learning material in their own language. Karnataka alone has more than 400 first grade government colleges, 300 aided colleges and nearly 15 affiliating universities offering various degree programs. Close to 3 lakh students study in these institutions apart from lakhs of them in hundreds of private unaided institutions. These students would then have the option of choosing either the English texts or the translated Kannada editions simultaneously, to understand the core subjects in an in depth manner.
The translation work of the above kind would partly address the need for development of contextual literature in Hindi and Kannada in many relevant subjects. It would be a wonderful idea for the Government to facilitate the provision of the translated versions of books such as the Berkeley Series for all the college libraries – both at the senior secondary and degree levels. This would probably spur younger crop of students from districts as far apart as Bidar and Chamarajanagar to take up science or humanities alike seriously, and shape a possible career in academics.