Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Unicode in African computer science curricula?

Unicode Consortium logo
A current thread on the Unicode email list asks about Unicode in the computer science curricula of universities or other schools - on the premise that most students in this area learn little to nothing about it. The thread also touches on the broader level of familiarity of computer technicians with internationalization ("i18n").

I'd like to relay this question in the direction of information and communications technology (ICT) experts in Africa: Are there examples of Unicode being taught as part of courses in any African universities? Or of computer science programs that do not include Unicode or internationalization in any courses?

For those not familiar with Unicode (and the ISO/IEC 10646 universal character set), it is the character encoding standard that permits use of any or all writing systems on computers and across the internet. (For more, see the Unicode Consortium's page, "What is Unicode?")

Relevance of Unicode in Africa

Given the use of extended Latin characters in written forms of many languages in Africa, and the use of non-Latin scripts for others, it would seem that Unicode would be a natural subject to introduce to students who plan to work in ICT in Africa. So perhaps there are some good examples to share?

For instance, last September there was news that computer science students at American University of Nigeria (AUN) developed phone apps in Hausa and Fulfulde for teaching literacy. This requires some knowledge of Unicode, implying that perhaps the students learned about it at AUN. (I'm seeking more info on this for an upcoming post in the "Really smart mobiles know African languages" series.)

On the other hand, the persistence of an 8-bit "special font" in Mali would seem to indicate that in that country at least, the word about Unicode hasn't spread to people who should know about it. Are there other examples of Unicode not being used where it would help most?

(See also: "Unicode and the architecture of ICT," 30 June 2015)


André 小山 Schappo said...

I encourage all educational establishments to include Unicode in your Computer Science/ICT teaching. Knowledge of Unicode will give your students an advantage.

Don said...

Thanks, André. I agree that this is fundamental. Might be helpful to compile examples of syllabi & course proposals that include Unicode and i18n.

On the other end of the educational spectrum - elementary school - in African countries where languages are written with extended Latin characters, it might also be helpful to encourage teaching of the "long Latin alphabet." Hoping to post on that later.

The idea of associating these in a single strategy being that extended Latin, as well as non-Latin scripts, are not just add-ons, but integral to writing and computing at all levels. So back to computer science, in an internationalized environment, all writing systems are there, even if for much work the focus may be on basic Latin. (On a practical level, some issues in IDN are good examples of how all scripts matter in more ways than just being able to write a particular language.

André 小山 Schappo said...

I recently discovered two organisations that encourage internationalisation of the curriculum. One based in the UK and the other in Australia. See

I consider it essential for educators to think and teach global skills. In the case of Computer Science this means teaching and encouraging students to build software for the world.

Are there any African organisations or educators that are active in internationalisation of the curriculum?

Don said...

Thanks Andre. I just posted on this topic again, partly in response to your comment: Internationalizing computer science in Africa. You raise an interesting idea regarding how internationalization of higher education might apply to including internationalization (i18n) and Unicode in computer science. As for your question about organizations/educators active in internationalization of curricula in Africa, unfortunately I don't have any good answer now.