Monday, May 07, 2007

Building Partnerships for the Knowledge Society

I attended a presentation on this topic today by Abdul Waheed Kahn, the Assistant Director General of UNESCO for Communication and Information. Dr. Kahn is responsible for the newest, and one of the smallest sectors of UNESCO -- a sector that was created only in 1990. Of course, UNESCO's interests in information and communication technologies extends back to the origins of the organization in the 1940's, but with the Information Revolution, it has grown stronger.

The meeting was sponsored by the State Department and UNESCO, and was attended by several member of the National Commission for UNESCO, as well as members of civil society organizations. The U.N. Foundation provided the facilities for the meeting, in their elegant headquarters at 1800 Massachusetts Ave.

The Assistant Director General was able to stop in Washington on his return from Medellin, Colombia, where he had attended the activities in honor of World Press Freedom Day. He mentioned that each year the Guillermo Cano Prize is given to a reporter who has led in the battle for press freedom (and each year, UNESCO angers the home government of that reporter, which had usually tried to suppress press freedom.

Dr. Kahn stressed that UNESCO is a very strong advocate of Freedom of the Press, and indeed informed the leaders of the World Summit on the Information Society that WSIS would be considered a failure by UNESCO if it did not proclaim the importance of freedom of the press. UNESCO succeeded in making WSIS about building knowledge societies, and not simply a meeting about increasing connectivity. It has been given the responsibility as lead agency in many of the follow-up programs of WSIS.

Dr. Kahn mentioned programs managed under his authority:
* The International Program for the Development of Communications, and

* The Information for All Program
In the new biennium, the Communication and Information program may devote as much as 22 percent of its budget to inter-sectoral efforts, such as ICT for Education the applications of ICT to science.

The ADG said that he would put his power point presentation on the Internet soon.

I was impressed by Dr. Kahn's acknowledgment of the primacy of education among UNESCO's program. As the former head of the world's largest university, he should of course value education. He stressed the importance of ICT in making education affordable and accessible through distance education. He also underlined the importance of the technology in making education available to the 10 percent of the world's population suffering from disabilities of one kind or another.

Dr. Kahn was exceptionally sensitive to the problems of maintaining cultural diversity in the face of homogenizing forces unleashed by new technologies and globalization. He emphasized the cultural dimensions of UNESCO's mission of building the defenses of peace first in the minds of men.

No comments: