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Volume No. 1 Issue No. 95 - Wednesday January 18, 2007
Towards Knowledge Societies
Ko�chiro Matsuura - Director general Unesco

Are we on the threshold of a new age � that of knowledge societies? The scientific upheavals of the 20th century have brought about a third industrial revolution, that of the new technologies, which are essentially intellectual technologies. This revolution, which has been accompanied by a further advance of globalization, has laid down the bases of a knowledge economy, placing knowledge at the heart of human activity, development and social change.

Yet information is not knowledge; and the incipient world information society, will only fulfil its potential if it facilitates the emergence of pluralistic and participative knowledge societies that include rather than exclude.

Does this mean that the 21st century will see the development of societies of shared knowledge? As underlined by the UNESCO World Report Towards Knowledge Societies, coordinated by J�r�me Bind� and just published in six languages, there should be no excluded individuals in learning societies: for knowledge is a public asset that should be accessible to all. Knowledge has two remarkable qualities: its non-rivality and, once the period of protection under intellectual property rights has lapsed, its non-exclusivity.

The first illustrates a property of knowledge already highlighted in the observation of Jefferson: �He who receives an idea from me receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.� The second signifies that anyone can make free use of knowledge belonging to the public domain.

There is a clear awareness today that the development of societies predicated on the sharing of knowledge is the best way of waging effective war on poverty and forestalling major health risks such as pandemics, of reducing the terrible loss of life caused by tsunamis and tropical storms, and of promoting sustainable human development.

For new modes of development are today within our grasp: these are no longer based, as in the past, on �blood, sweat and tears", but rather on intelligence, the scientific and technological capacity to address problems, intellectual added value, and the expansion of services in all sectors of the economy, which should be conducive to civic development and, in response to the risk society, the growth of a forward-looking democracy.

However, five obstacles stand in the way of the advent of societies of shared knowledge:

� The digital divide: no connection means no access. True, the number of Internet users is increasing all the time, having reached close on one billion. Yet two billion people are not connected to an electricity grid and three-quarters of the global population have little or no access to basic telecommunication facilities.
� The cognitive divide, even deeper and much older, constitutes a major rift between North and South, as it does within every society.
� The concentration of knowledge - particularly high-tech knowledge, as well as large-scale scientific and educational investment - on restricted geographical areas, reinforcing the brain drain from South to North as well as North-North and South-South directions.
� Knowledge exists to be shared; but once it is converted into information, it has a price. How is the necessary balance to be struck between the universality of knowledge, implying accessibility to all, and respect for intellectual property rights?
� The development of societies of shared knowledge is today hampered by the deepening social, national, urban, family, educational and cultural divides affecting many countries and by the persistent gender divide reflected in the fact that 29% of girls on the planet do not attend school and that women are under-represented in the sciences.

To overcome these obstacles, the nations of the world will have to invest massively in education, research, info-development and the promotion of learning societies. What is at stake is the destiny of every country, since nations that fail to invest sufficiently in knowledge and quality education and science jeopardize their own future, running the risk of finding themselves drained of vital brain power.

What are the practical solutions proposed in the report Towards Knowledge Societies? Here are some examples:

� Invest more in quality education for all to ensure equal opportunity. Countries should earmark a substantial share of their GNP for educational spending; donor countries should raise the percentage of development aid intended for education.
� Governments, the private sector and social partners should explore the possibility of introducing progressively, over the 21st century, a "study-time entitlement" giving individuals the right to a number of years of education after the completion of compulsory schooling. In this way, everybody would have access to lifelong training and would be given a second chance in the case of having left school early.
� While increasing investment in scientific research and in quality research geared to future challenges, there is also a need to promote practical and innovative approaches to the sharing of knowledge, such as the collaboratory. This new virtual institution, telescoping laboratory and collaboration in one word, enables researchers to work together in crossfrontier scientific networks. This innovation, to which we owe the deciphering of the human genome, could change North-South relations in the scientific field and curb the brain drain.
� There's also a need to promote linguistic diversity in the new knowledge societies and turn to account local and traditional knowledge.

But can the South afford knowledge societies? Are they not a luxury reserved for the North? One could of course reply by paraphrasing Lincoln: "If you think knowledge is expensive, try ignorance!� Should we not draw the lesson from the success of many countries in the world?

Some have invested massively over several decades in education and scientific research and have succeeded in substantially reducing absolute poverty. Certain have already overtaken many rich countries in terms of their per capita GDP. Others, which were already among the most advanced countries, have further boosted their chances globally, while continuing to raise their level of sustainable human development.

Can it be said that a world that now devotes a trillion dollars annually to military spending lacks the means to promote knowledge societies for all? Substantial funding for education and knowledge could also be released by bold reform policies aimed at reducing non-productive expenditure, improving the efficiency of public services, streamlining bureaucracies, eliminating ineffective grants and combating corruption.

To meet the challenge of a world deeply divided by disparities of all kinds, and to address the contradiction between the global nature of our problems and the partitioning of knowledge, there is no alternative to knowledge sharing. To paraphrase an African proverb, knowledge is like love - it is the only thing that grows by being shared.

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Volume No. 1 Issue No. 94
Chavez visits Dominica
History of Zouk
Carnival Fire
My wayward friend
The greenest island

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