UNESCO outlines strategy to combat digital divideParis - The free flow of information, made possible by the advent of new technologies such as the internet, holds enormous promise of cultural dialogue and mutual understanding, of quality education available throughout our lifetimes and of more vigorous and participative democratic processes.
But the so-called "digital divide" - the enormous and growing inequalities between rich and poor nations in access to the new information technologies (ICTs) - threatens to deny this promise from entire regions.
Mindful both of the potentials of ICTs and of the dangers of increased marginalization these represent for those without access to them, UNESCO has developed a four-pronged strategy which it will urge States to adopt as their own at the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) scheduled to take place in Geneva in 2003 and Tunis in 2005.
Director-General Koich´ro Matsuura will outline this strategy on Wednesday, September 11 in Paris before representatives of UNESCO Members States.
First a set of common principles for the information society of the future must be defined. These, says UNESCO, should include:
- Freedom of expression and its corollary, freedom of the press.
- Free, compulsory and universal primary education.
- The recognition that education as well as cultural goods and services cannot be treated as mere commodities.
- The pre-eminence of public policy.
- The promotion of public domain information and public service broadcasting.
Point two concerns access by the greatest number to the learning opportunities offered by new information technologies. This implies that:
- Computer literacy be recognized as a basic skill in educational systems and free access to the internet be provided in schools and public libraries.
- Full advantage be taken of distance education and the life-long learning opportunities offered by ICTs.
Point three is to strengthen capacities for scientific research and information sharing. UNESCO wishes to see increased exchange and cooperation among specialists and interest groups working in the fields of education, science, culture and communication. To this end UNESCO:
- Encourages the use of new methods of content development and access to education and to scientific information, e.g. virtual universities, virtual laboratories, and research groups. Such methods can contribute to bridging the scientific divide, enabling researchers in developing countries to participate in research at the international level and to share its results.
- Promotes actions that focus on building linkages and synergies between science and local and indigenous knowledge, particularly in environmental management practices and in the transmission of local knowledge from one generation to the next.
Last but not least - point four- UNESCO encourages States to use ICTs to promote greater participation by citizens in democratic life. This can be achieved by:
- Using the internet and other ICTs as tools for dialogue between citizens and the authorities.
- Integrating new and "traditional" technologies, including library services and community media; the production, adaptation, translation and sharing of local contents; and the setting up of pilot projects corresponding to different cultural contexts.
- Giving high priority to the needs of those disadvantaged and marginalized groups that are presently excluded so that information societies be open and inclusive.
- Improving access to the benefits of the information society for women and youth. Extending material assistance to countries at present unable to offer access to ICTs to large numbers of their citizens.
For more information, a platform providing information on UNESCO's contribution to the preparation of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) is now online. The website provides data on UNESCO's numerous preparatory activities and lists links to similar services of other organizations and national governments.
Contact: Asbel Lopez
Bureau of Public Information, Editorial Section
Tel: (+33)(0) 1 45 68 17 07