17 November 2006
The UNESCO World Report on knowledge societies for all has been released at a crucial moment. After the achievements of the first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society, there is fresh international interest in the growth and development paradigm that bears within it the idea of “knowledge societies”.The term “knowledge societies” was first used at the end of the 1960s; according to theoreticians, the wealth of a nation depends more on its ability to produce, exchange and transform knowledge than on its natural wealth or production industry. Knowledge societies are not just the information society: unlike information, knowledge cannot be considered as mere merchandise.
Will the 21st century see a real expansion of knowledge sharing? There are several obstacles to that at the moment. The well-known digital divide is now invariably coupled with a “knowledge divide”, which separates countries with a good education system, research facilities and development potential, from countries which are also hard hit by the brain drain.
The UNESCO World Report gives a panoramic forecast of the upheavals we can expect. Are new technologies the miracle cure for inequality and exclusion? What structure should be given to the debate on ethical issues raised by new knowledge and new technology? What will higher education be like, and how should we develop lifelong education?
Towards Knowledge Societies puts forward several lines of reflection and action for knowledge sharing: debt swaps can fund education and development programmes; “collaboratories” (collaboration + laboratory) can guide distance research – researchers working separately but for a common goal; study time entitlement and permanent training to enable people to adjust as their work evolves.