UNESCO emphasizes role of education for building knowledge societiesAccess to quality education for all, information for everyone, respect for cultural and linguistic diversity, and an open internet based on respect for human rights and especially freedom of expression are the four pillars on which knowledge societies must be built, concluded participants at a high-level debate organized by UNESCO within the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), that was held in Tunis from 16 to 18 November 2005.
Leading information technology thinkers and policy-makers* took part in the debate within the Round Table “Shaping the Future through Knowledge”, hosted by UNESCO’s Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura on Thursday, November 17.
The participants noted that the growth of “e-society” does not guarantee the development of knowledge, let alone wisdom. They voiced concern about the loss of vast quantities of knowledge, notably indigenous knowledge, which “cannot be transmitted through the keyboard” and for the inability of huge numbers of people to access information that is vital to them because it is not available in their language.
Speakers emphasized the potential of the internet to serve as a universal comprehensive encyclopedia that makes knowledge available to all. This gave rise to a debate about the credibility of content on the internet. There was also concern that disinformation on the internet jeopardizes tolerance and peaceful coexistence.
Despite the globalization of lifestyles and cultures, cultural and linguistic diversity remain essential for the development and well-being of societies. The Round Table participants agreed that, in this regard, much depends on education, which can often be facilitated by technology.
Referring to the high level symposium (‘Building Knowledge Societies – from Vision to Action’) that he convened during the first phase of the Summit held in Geneva in December 2003, Mr Matsuura stressed the need to continue thinking about the challenges and opportunities of information and communication.
It is to that end, he said, that UNESCO prepared its “World Report 2005: Towards Knowledge Societies”, “which explains the significance of the shift from the concept of ‘the information society’ to that of ‘knowledge societies’. While the advent of an interconnected world has rapidly re-ordered our relationship to information and education, the question of how to build societies based on shared knowledge has not yet been adequately addressed.”
In producing the report and organizing debates such as the Round Table at the Summit, the Director-General said, UNESCO is fulfilling its mission to act as a laboratory of ideas “by stimulating dialogue and offering an intellectual, strategic and ethical vision on this important subject.”
* The participants included a panel of: Ahmed Darwish, Minister of State for Administrative Development (Egypt); Viviane Reding, Commissioner for Information Society and Media (European Commission); Abdulaziz Othman Altwaijri, Director-General, Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO); Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (USA) Media Lab; Atsushi Aiba, of the International Research Center for Japanese Studies (Harvard University); Lynn St. Amour, President/CEO, Internet Society (USA); Hans Åkerblom, Mindo (Sweden); Wendy Hawkins, Director of Education, Intel Corporation. The debate involved the active participation of the audience, among them leading academics and researchers. The debate was moderated by Anne Leer, a specized author, editor publisher.