Knowledge societies: The way forward to build a better world

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Des écoliers dans un laboratoire informatique (Rhodes Park School, Zambie)
Flickr: IICD CC BY 2.0

Knowledge and information have significant impact on people’s lives. Their association, particularly through Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), has the power to transform economies and societies. Knowledge societies must build on four pillars: freedom of expression; universal access to information and knowledge; respect for cultural and linguistic diversity; and quality education for all. UNESCO works to create inclusive knowledge societies and empower local communities by increasing access to, preservation and sharing of information and knowledge in all of the Organization’s fields of work. 

“UNESCO has been a pioneer in enlarging our vision of technology, in moving beyond infrastructure to human needs. We cannot just invest in technology -- we need to invest in ecosystems,” declared UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova.

The Organization’s thrust to create knowledge societies has its base on the conviction that universal access to information is essential to building peace, sustainable economic development, and intercultural dialogue. Therefore, UNESCO has created several tools and programmes to promote ‘Openness’ in content, technology, and processes through awareness raising, policy formulation and capacity building. 

Among these solutions, Open Educational Resources pave the way for universal access to high quality education by allowing the free use, adaptation and distribution of teaching, learning or research materials. In parallel, in order to help reduce the gap between industrialized countries and those in the emerging economy, UNESCO has decided to adopt an Open Access Policy for its publications by making use of a new dimension of knowledge sharing – Open Access.

Central to its mandate of promoting peace and intercultural dialogue, UNESCO also supports the preservation of documentary heritage by strengthening existing preservation frameworks, and emphasizes long-term preservation of digitized and digitally-born information. In 1992, the Organization established the Memory of the World Programme, which gathers some of humanity's most remarkable documentary heritage for the benefit of all, for the enjoyment and knowledge of future generations. 

UNESCO equally encourages multilingualism and respect for cultural diversity in cyberspace. It promotes local content production in different languages and contributes to international debates on internet governance, through participation in the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) and the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).

Changes brought about by the rapid development of ICTs not only opened wonderful opportunities to humankind but also posed unprecedented ethical challenges. The ability to express one’s self freely and globally has caused one of the major dilemmas regarding ethical challenges in the 21st century, for along with the benefits of a digitally connected world came the threats of misuse and abuse, the explicit prejudice, lack of mutual respect and radicalization. As such, UNESCO hosted an international conference, “Youth and the Internet”, which aimed at providing effective tools in response to the use of Internet in fuelling violent extremism. 

“UNESCO’s position is clear – the Internet and new ICTs must be platforms for positive engagement, peace, promoting respect for human  rights and dignity, enabling dialogue and mutual understanding,” said the Director-General. 

For this, UNESCO counts on the help of its Member States and international organizations to ensure that everyone can have access to ICTs and information. 

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Knowledge is power. Information is liberating.

Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.

– Kofi Annan