To mark the global commemoration of the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI), UNESCO and the Government of Sri Lanka jointly organized a two day international conference in Colombo under the theme of “The Asian Digital Revolution: Transforming the Digital Divide into a Dividend through Universal Access”.
The event addressed such topics as open solutions for universal access; online challenges to individual rights and fundamental rights and freedoms; gender equality and opportunities and challenges of new digital technologies and algorithms.
In opening remarks, the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe, stated that the high pace of digital innovation requires commitment by Sri Lanka to a total knowledge-based society to drive integration within the 4th Industrial Revolution. Recalling his country’s successful response to the earlier industrial revolution through achievements and innovation which took place in irrigation, engineering and medical sciences the Prime Minister said: “Our government is committed to promoting the knowledge industry, and as a result we have to make the commitment to open access, where information is accessible and education is open and available to all”.
In a statement issued from Paris on the occasion of IDUAI, UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay stated: “The purpose of this international day is to remind governments and all the stakeholders in civil society of the need to ensure truly universal access to information. Access to information is directly linked to the enjoyment of basic rights and freedoms and influences the achievement of all the Sustainable Development Goals.
Indrajit Banerjee, Director of UNESCO's Knowledge Societies Division, invited the audience of 250 senior officials, academicians and experts “to take a chance to address some hard issues about access to information and how to put in place the right instruments to assist universal access for all.”
Eric Falt, Director of the UNESCO New Delhi Office urged participants to examine information access through a far more inclusive lens. “Access to information is rarely equitable, and it is critical to ensure that the digital dividend reaches traditionally disadvantaged groups including women. Considerations of gender must be integrated into the design of new information services, technologies and products. The roll-out of these ICTs too must be truly inclusive. Let us make a gendered approach to technology and access the new normal.”
Dr Saima Wazed Hossain, World Health Organization Goodwill Ambassador for Autism and Chairperson of the Shuchona Foundation in Bangladesh, also urged that accessibility for persons with disabilities must be integral to any debate on universal access to information. She noted that technology applications hold wonderful promise for persons with disabilities, including technologies for persons on the autism spectrum and for the deaf and blind, but urged UNESCO and it's Member States to make applications adaptable, affordable and accessible through open-licensing.
“Sri Lanka could overcome challenges by prudent policies and strategies that led towards creating a knowledge society and digital economy” stated Harin Fernando, Minister of Telecommunication, Digital Infrastructure and Foreign Employment of the Government of Sri Lanka.
“It is my Ministry’s duty to prepare the new generation for the 21st century”, said Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, Minister of Education of Sri Lanka and Chairperson of the Sri Lanka National Commission for UNESCO, “we aim to reach 100% IT literacy rate, through a 90% geographical connectivity coverage”. Stressing that access to quality education and the need for qualified teachers in rural areas remain a challenge, the Minister underscored that “many South Asian countries are facing similar challenges.”
The 2018 IDUAI conference comprises seven thematic workshops and panel discussions and will conclude with the adoption of a Colombo Statement on Universal Access to Information. The event also observed the launch of the 3rd version of UNESCO's Competency Framework for Teachers.
The worldwide commemoration of IDUAI each year on 28 September reinforces UNESCO’s mission to support its 195 Member States in building Knowledge Societies based upon four pillars: universal access to information and knowledge; respect for cultural and linguistic diversity; freedom of expression; and quality education for all.