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Knowledge versus information societies:
UNESCO report takes stock of the difference

Available online as PDF file [220p.] at:

November 3-2005 (Paris)

A UNESCO report urges governments to expand quality education for all,
increase community access to information and communication technology, and
improve cross-border scientific knowledge-sharing, in an effort to narrow
the digital and "knowledge" divides between the North and South and move
towards a "smart" form of sustainable human development.

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

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.

Less well known is Villa El Salvador in Peru, a community of several
thousand people who were evicted from Lima in 1971. Settled in the desert,
they built, without any outside assistance, schools and education centres
and turned their slum into an organized town of more than 400,000
inhabitants. Ninety-eight percent of children in the town go to school,
adult illiteracy is the lowest in the country at 4.5 percent and more than
15,000 students are enrolled in the University of Villa El Salvador or in
universities in the capital, Lima.

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

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

Cultural and linguistic diversity are also central to the development of
knowledge societies, say the authors, pointing out that local and
traditional knowledge can be invaluable for agriculture and health, for
example. This category of knowledge, often found in societies where no
written language exists, is particularly vulnerable. With one language
estimated to be dying out every two weeks, much of this traditional
knowledge is being lost. Examples illustrating the utilisation of
traditional knowledge, for instance in agriculture in Fiji, are included in
the report.

The stakes are high, stresses the Report, for the cost of ignorance is
greater than the cost of education and knowledge sharing. It argues in
favour of societies that are able to integrate all their members and
promote new forms of solidarity involving both present and future
generations. Nobody, it states, should be excluded from knowledge
societies, where knowledge is a public good, available to each and every

* The first in a new series of World Reports, "Towards Knowledge Societies"
will be presented at the World Summit on the Information Society (Tunis,
November 16-18). The next World Report, scheduled for 2007, will examine
cultural diversity

**An international team of leading experts and intellectuals, directed by
JÈrÙme BindÈ, Deputy Assistant Director-General for Social and Human
Sciences and Director of the Division of Foresight, Philosophy and Human
Sciences at UNESCO, contributed to the World Report.

*      *      *     *

This message from the Pan American Health Organization, PAHO/WHO, is part
of an effort to disseminate information Related to: Equity; Health
inequality; Socioeconomic inequality in health; Socioeconomic health
differentials; Gender; Violence; Poverty; Health Economics; Health
Legislation; Ethnicity; Ethics; Information Technology - Virtual libraries;
Research & Science issues.  [DD/ IKM Area]

"Materials provided in this electronic list are provided "as is".Unless
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Health Organization PAHO/WHO or its country members".

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