Friday, November 18, 2005

Knowledge Society and the Digital Divide

Knowledge based societies have come a long way in developing the quality of its citizens life. Probably the wheels of growth have gained a strong momentum because they always believed in the healthy practice of sharing and enabling knowledge based processes.

UNESCO has come up with a report which tries to find out the approach these societies have adopted and how they differ from the information based societies.

Towards Knowledge Societies"*, launched in Paris by UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura, also advocates making linguistic diversity a priority, sharing environmental knowledge and developing statistical tools to measure knowledge and help policy makers define their priorities.

Knowledge societies, the authors** stress, are not to be confused with information societies. Knowledge societies contribute to the well-being of individuals and communities, and encompass social, ethical and political dimensions.

Singapore, for example, started out as a developing country of shantytowns at independence and achieved economic growth rates that surpass those of most industrialized nations in just four decades by promoting knowledge (education) and creativity.

Information societies, on the other hand, are based on technological breakthroughs that risk providing little more than "a mass of indistinct data" for those who don't have the skills to benefit from it.

The Report, opens a panorama "that paints the future in both promising and disquieting tones," says the Director-General, "promising because the potential offered by a rational and purposeful use of the new technologies offers real prospects for human and sustainable development and the building of more democratic societies; disquieting for the obstacles and snares along the way are all too real."

One of the main obstacles, according to the Report, is the disparity in access to information and communication technology that has become known as the digital divide.Only 11 percent of the world's population has access to the internet and 90 percent of those connected live in industrialized countries.

This digital divide is itself the consequence of a more serious split. "The knowledge divide," write the authors, "today more than ever, separates countries endowed with powerful research and development potential, highly effective education systems and a range of public learning and cultural facilities, from nations with deficient education systems and research institutions starved of resources, and suffering as a result of the brain drain.

"Encouraging the development of knowledge societies requires overcoming these gaps, "consolidating two pillars of the global information society that are still too unevenly guaranteed - access to information for all and freedom of expression."

To read the complete report click here.