Broadband, technology and education – lessons at WSIS Forum

Capitalizing on technology to address some of the world's most pressing educational challenges was the focus of a Future Debate at UNESCO Headquarters on 25 February entitled “Broadband, technology and education – lessons of the past ten years”.

The debate was part of the WSIS+10 (World Summit on the Information Society) Review Event from 25-27 February, in which high-level officials met in Paris to review major changes in the area of communications technologies. It brought together commissioners, education and ICT specialists, to discuss Technology, Broadband and Education: Advancing the Education for All Agenda, the report of the Broadband Commission's Working Group on Education.

While the views of panellists varied widely on the best ways to improve and enhance education, they all agreed that broadband could address educational challenges in a world where 61 million children of primary-school age are not in school, 1.7 million extra teachers are needed and 775 million people, mostly women, are illiterate.

“Broadband gives us the opportunity to resolve this,” claimed Professor Bruno Lanvin, Executive Director, INSEAD eLab. “It's not an issue for the future, it’s an issue for the present; because the unschooled of today will be the unskilled of tomorrow. The future must be prepared for now.”

The Broadband Commission Report emphasized the importance of broadband as a means of accelerating progress towards the Millennium Development Goal of Universal Primary Education and the Education for All goals. John Davies John Davies, Vice President, at the World Ahead Program at Intel was positive about the future for broadband, but urged people to understand the complexities and the environment.

“Every kindergarten to year 12 student was born in the internet era so they know technology; even those seeing it for the first time find it very intuitive,” he said. However teachers were not born in this era, Mr Davies said, so industry and governments needed to provide them with the tools to learn.

High quality education, argued Lauren Woodman, General Manager of Partners in Learning at Microsoft (representing Anthony Salcito) went beyond the provision of broadband to the provision of high quality content. Javier Elguea, Director, INTTELMEX (representing Carlos Slim) went further, saying young people needed to become digital natives, “those who can understand digital languages, can tamper with that technology, and can create their own technology,” he said. “This is not someone who uses computers or devices, it’s someone who can tamper with the original system. That is the future.”

Other speakers included Adama Samassekou, President of the African Academy of Languages, former Education Minister of Mali;  Jyrki Pulkkinen, Senior Adviser, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland (representing Ms. Suvi Lindén); Armen Orujyan, Founder and Chairman, ATHGO Corporation; Dr Hamadoun Touré, Secretary General, International Telecommunication Union and Christian Roisse, Executive Secretary of EUTELSAT IGO.