In a recent workshop hosted by the Government of Vietnam in Hanoi on 6 and 7 September 2018, 9 Member States of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) discussed strategies to build a common framework and pursue joint efforts to advance access to information in the most remote areas of the region.
UNESCO’s support towards the advancement and consolidation of Information and Knowledge Societies was presented by highlighting the relevance of the Information For All Programme (IFAP) strategy for the period 2017-2021. The 9 Member States represented in the meeting (all countries except Singapore, who does not have rural population) agreed on the need to engage further with UNESCO and pursue joint efforts in line with IFAP’s objectives. Mikel Aguirre Idiaquez Programme Officer at UNESCO Myanmar Office reiterated the objectives and approach of the IFAP to improve and advance access to information and knowledge and its relevance to South East Asia. In the ASEAN countries 53% of the population have access to internet and over 68% use mobile technology (“Digital in South East Asia 2017”, We Are Social, 2018), yet most people living in rural areas have limited access to new ICTs and internet connection for different reasons, including inadequate basic infrastructure, low literacy levels, lack of suitable information services and lack of Media, Information and Digital Literacy competencies. Noting the key role that access and use of information and knowledge has in improving people’s live, the limited access for communities in rural and remote areas in the region translates into a widening poverty gap, and limited opportunities for public participation, IFAP strategic objectives can play an important role to overcome these limitations.
Although individual programmes have been implemented by ASEAN member states with relative success, all countries represented at the meeting agreed on the need to create a platform for the development of a regional policy or framework to continue improving access to information for rural communities and remote areas that looks not only into the infrastructure development, but pays also attention to programmes to promote Media and information Literacy and multilingualism, especially relevant in a region that is home to a great diversity to ethnic groups and minority languages. Precisely media and information literacy and multilingualism, are key aspects of information and knowledge societies that were left out of the ASEAN ICT Masterplans adopted in 2015, which focuses mostly in the development of infrastructure.
At the meeting, UNESCO also presented the results of the “Communication for Sustained Livelihoods and Food Security” project, implemented jointly with the Ministry of Information of Myanmar, which piloted activities related to the core principles and objectives of the IFAP programme, with a focus on Media and Information Literacy and development of content in ethnic languages targeted to rural audiences. The project has triggered initial discussions to develop for the first time policies and mechanisms to improve access to information for rural communities in the country.
The Intergovernmental Information for All Programme was established in 2001. It provides a platform for international policy discussions, cooperation and the development of guidelines for action in the area of access to information and knowledge. The Programme supports Member States to develop and implement national information policy and strategy frameworks in the areas of information accessibility, information for development, information ethics, information literacy, information preservation and multilingualism.