Isidro Fernández–Aballí Issue: Global-ICT 2002
Article no.: 11
Topic: The Impact of Telecommunication Upon Regional Educational, Social and Cultural Development
Author: Isidro Fernández–Aballí
Title: Regional Information Advisor for Latin America and the Caribbean, and Permanent Secretary
Organisation: INFOLAC
PDF size: 36KB

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Article abstract

Telecommunications deployment has slowed down in the region. The use of telecommunications as a tool for regional development has been negatively affected. All sectors of society in the region recognise that information and communication technology tools can help to solvedevelopmental problems. The region is taking advantage of the opportunities offered by telecommunications. In order to ensure continuous growth for everybody, the private, civil and public sectors have to find ways to develop more effective channels for their co-operative efforts.

 

Full Article

The Latin America and Caribbean region comprises 20 million square kilometres , 13% of the plane4s surface, making it a diverse and important geographical area, both culturally and politically. Likewise, it is vital from an ecological point of view, housing the Worl?s lungs and abounding in bio-diversity. Cultural diversity is further evidenced by the array of languages spoken: 30% Portuguese (Brazil) , 67% Spanish (19 Countries) and 3% distributed among English (the main part, 13 countries), French (Haiti, Guadeloupe, French Guyana, Martinique), Dutch (Netherlands Antilles, San Martin and Curaçao) and other local languages. The region’s youthful population amounts to 519 million inhabitants , whereas 62% are younger than 30 years, a clear advantage in an age that requires fast learning and adaptation abilities. The region’s unequal distribution of wealth, high unemployment rates, inadequate health services and insufficient educational and cultural opportunities, affect at least 60% of the population. The telecommunication sector has been severely affected by the current economic downturn. The situation is painful both within the sector and to those who rely on it. But what about those outside the telecommunication sector?. What was the impact upon the regional, social and cultural development in Latin America? Throughout the region, mass media have generated a phenomenal awareness and demand for access to the digital tools and the Internet. While the affluent have readily found access venues, the urban and rural poor are often excluded from the telecommunication technologies. As a result only a small minority (aproximately 7% of the population) of the Latin American and Carribean regions population has access to the Internet. As a direct cause of the slump, investment in telecommunication deployment has slowed in the region (Chart 1), its use as a tool for regional development, for social realisation and economic inclusion is negatively affected. As a result the much quoted “digital divide” will become an even wider split between the connected and unconnected as the process of digital inclusion slows. Chart 1 An important change is taking place when the governments and civil society sectors in the region become conscious that information and communication technology tools, when employed appropriately, can help solve developmental problems. This is why the countries in the region are increasingly concerned about fully participating in the Information and Knowledge Society. This concern was voiced at the Florianópolis meeting (Brazil, 20-21/06/2000), which prepared the ECOSOC high level segment devoted to Development and international co-operation in the twenty-first century: the role of information technology in the context of a knowledge-based global economy. Subsequently, the Itacuruçá Regional InfoEthics Consultative Meeting (26-27/10/2000) reaffirmed the desire of countries in the region to be full partners in the global information society. To reinforce, the preceding statements, representatives of UNESCO Member States from Latin America and the Caribbean, gathered in Margarita Island, Venezuela, urged UNESCO to create a Regional Information Society Programme. The aim of this programme would be “to support reflection on strategies, actions, co-ordination and organisation mechanisms, that make it possible for all Member States in Latin America and the Caribbean to become fully incorporated in the Information Society”. INFOLAC, a Regional Intergovernmental Co-operation Mechanism on National Information Systems for Development, created under the auspice of UNESCO in 1986, has developed effective power to convene 24 Member States, to widen the scope of their action in benefit of their peoples in the advent of the digital era. At the VIII Consultative Meeting, held 12-14 June 2001, in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, it was resolved to change the objective of INFOLAC to “furthering the development of the Information Society in Latin America and the Caribbean”, and, accordingly, will henceforth be known as INFOLAC: Information Society Program for Latin America and the Caribbean. The challenge by the regional member states was answered by UNESCO through the creation of the Information for All Programme and the establishment of Regional Communication and Information Offices all over the World, one of which is located in Quito, Ecuador. Information For All Programme, is a platform for international policy discussion, and programme development, aimed at the better understanding of the ethical, legal, and societal consequences of ICT’s, the improvement to access to information in the public domain and the preservation of information. The Programme is comprised of five programme areas: development of international, regional, and national information policies; development of human resources and capabilities for the information age; strengthening institutions as gateways for information access; development of information processing and management tools and systems, and information technology for education, science culture, and communication. It also provides a framework for international co-operation and partnerships. A very important activity is its promotion of the use of ICTs to accelerate educational processes for marginal population groups and those living in extreme poverty. There can be no “Information for All without Education for All”. Digital inclusion is the process by which a society progressively develops access to digital information and communication technologies in a way that benefits the economic, social, political and cultural lives of each and every member of that society. For this process to succeed requires multiple parallel initiatives from all parts of society and in areas such as policy monitoring, local connectivity, content creation, cultural identity, equal access to public (including government) information and democratization of access. UNESCO, in the region, can count upon the co-operation of strong partners and it has already taken the initiative to fulfill its objectives. There are several institutions that have joint venture agreements with UNESCO for the creation of Regional Centers to work for the inclusion of the region in the Information Society, among them: · Regional Library of Science and Technology at the Venezuelan Institute of Scientific Research (IVIC) · Regional Center on CD-ROM Production at the University of Colima, Mexico · Regional Chair on New Information Technologies at University of Colima, Mexico · Regional Center on New Information Technologies for MERCOSUR · Regional Center on Book Promotion for Latin America and the Caribbean (CERLALC), Bogotá, Colombia Another UNESCO contribution in the framework of the social use of the Internet is the creation of several portals. Among them are the following: · Internet for Librarians (http://200.44.120.106/Volumes/internetbib/) · Latin America and the Caribbean bibliographic data bases INFOLAC (www.latino.ucol.mx) · INFOLAC (http://infolac.ucol.mx ) · Ibero-American and the Caribbean Digital Library (http://bd-dl.ucol.mx) · Association of Ibero-American National Libraries (http://abinia.ucol.mx) · Newspaper Network for Peace (http://redipaz.ucol.mx) Those are examples on how despite the telecommunications slump, ICT development in the region continues and grows. The Community Multimedia Telecentre Movement in Latin America and Caribbean is a perfect example how the grassroots in Latin America themselves have grasped the advantages of telecommunication opportunities to further educational, social and cultural growth. In general, a telecentre is a public space where people can have access to telecommunications services. Originally telecentres were simply public phone installations, but as ICT such as the fax and Internet became popular, it has become increasingly important to include a range of computer-based office services (document processing, printing, scanning, faxing etc) and connectivity (access to email, WWW and so on). These Telecentres are born from expressed needs of the community itself, and are conceived, implemented, maintained and managed with the participation of the community. These Telecentres are much more than mere access points to the new technologies, they are places of encounter, dialogue, learning and exchange that lead to personal and social change. Private sector versions of this idea are the business centres in hotels and convention centres, cybercafés and public access kiosks Today approximately 6000 such Community Multimedia Telecentres exist in the region. More are established every day, (http://www.tele-centros.org ), in fact the movement is constantly growing in strengh and will grow even quicker with the implementation of national telecentre networks planed by regional governments. (see Chart 2) Many telecentres are member of the Somos@Telecentros Network, the only regional network of telecentres in the world. Libraries, archives, information services and networks are essential components of a strategy aiming at improving information access, both for the public at large and for specialized clienteles. In Latin America and the Caribbean, only a small minority of the population are English-speaking, whilst the majority of the Internet content is in the Anglo-Saxon language. Bridging the digital divide also means bridging the language divide present in the Internet, which in turn means, for the Latin American and Caribbean region, that more content in Spanish and Portuguese be made freely available. In Latin America and the Caribbean, thousands of web pages containing an abundance of information of historical, cultural and scientific value, must be organized properly, so that they can compete on a global scale and contribute to the regions development of its own cultural roots. Diverse institutions of the region have been united by UNESCO to create a Digital Library of Ibero-America and the Caribbean. As now planed, 34 National Libraries of Latin America and the Caribbean, Spain and Portugal will create a basic collection, in digital format, of 5000 representative works of the life and the culture of the Latin American and Caribbean countries. In addition an analytical description and indexing of a significant number of relevant web sites will be developed. At the same time, each National Library will determine the minimum technological and human capacities to digitize, to describe, to locate and administer the data that is considered relevant by each participant Library in the project. Each one of them will do this individually, but based upon the General Methodology of the Digital Library. To prepare the human resources, training courses at the UNESCO Regional Chair in New Technologies of Information will be necessary. The impact of the Information for All Programme, and the Digital Library in particular, on the educational growth in the region can not be underestimated. Information technology is the only realistic way for all schools in the region to access their cultural inheritance. Conclusion The examples given here are just a few of many in the region. We have to come to the conclusion that the slump in the telecommunication sector has indeed slowed down the regional educational, social and cultural development in Latin America and the Caribbean, but there are many signs of hope for the future. Despite the weak infrastructure and severe economic and political limitations and a decrease in the region’s overall IT investment, all civil society sectors have taken advantage of the opportunities telecommunication offers them. This process will continue and we have to do everything in our power to support the regional initiatives for digital inclusion. The main lesson learned from the mistakes and successes in the past is that for the continued educational, social and cultural growth of the region, the development of telecommunications is a key factor and will become even more important then it is already today. In order to ensure continuous growth for everybody, the private, civil and public sectors have to find ways to develop more effective means of co-operation. Telecommunication has made this a world where nobody is an island, where dialogue is crucial, where new understandings have to be developed and new alliances forged. We have to learn to break down the artificial barriers that still exist between the main actors in the IT sector.”