Grenada and UNESCO: Caribbean Knowledge Societies

Building Caribbean Knowledge Societies: IFAP Conference in Grenada

Over 50 delegates from 13 Caribbean countries gathered for the First UNESCO Regional IFAP Conference in Saint George’s, Grenada during the 15th and 17th June 2011. Under the theme “Building Caribbean Knowledge Societies”, the Conference aimed to enable Caribbean countries to develop a realistic action plan that would address their development needs and foster the creation of knowledge societies in the region.

Introduction

The concept of Knowledge Societies is founded on the notion of societies which use information and communication tools and resources in a manner that is people-centered, inclusive, and equitable. In Knowledge Societies everyone can freely create, access, utilize, share and disseminate information and knowledge, so that individuals, communities, and peoples are empowered to improve their quality of life and to achieve their full potential.

International thinking about Knowledge Societies came to the fore during the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in 2003 and 2005, which set a series of related goals for 2015. The WSIS follow-up framework provides today a forum in which multiple stakeholders including international organizations, governments, the private sector and civil society can discuss the opportunities of the new information and communication environment.

This consultation will combine the WSIS multi-stakeholder approach with the Information For All Programme (IFAP), which is an intergovernmental body of UNESCO created in 2001 to foster the creation of Knowledge Societies in Member States. IFAP supports knowledge-based processes for attaining national development goals by elaborating and implementing national information policy frameworks in the following five priority areas: Information accessibility, Information for Development, Information Preservation, Information Literacy and Information Ethics. In addition, by disseminating best practices, supporting projects in IFAP’s priority areas and other strategic activities IFAP addresses Member States’ needs in this area.

The event, organized by UNESCO in collaboration with the Government of Grenada, featured the following topics:

  • Concept of knowledge societies in the Caribbean context;
  • Role of IFAP in building inclusive knowledge societies;
  • Outcomes of the World Summit of Information Society (WSIS); and
  • UNESCO’s work in the follow-up to WSIS.

The delegates are expected to adopt a political declaration on building knowledge societies in the Caribbean and to develop an action plan that would address the specific needs of Caribbean countries in the framework of IFAP. Isidro Fernandez-Aballi, from UNESCO’s Kingston Office, expressed his satisfaction over the fact that UNESCO facilitates a conference of such importance in the region. According to him, the time has come for Caribbean leaders to think strategically about building knowledge societies and creating a culture of information for all.

Special guests at the Conference included our Prime Minister of Grenada and Chairman of CARICOM, Tillman Thomas, and the President of the UNESCO General Conference, Davidson Hepburn.

Trying to close the digital divide in the Caribbean

For the second time in a month, a senior Grenada government official has appealed to the region to “fully embrace” Information Communication Technology (ICT) as a tool for the development of the Caribbean region.

Minister of Finance and Acting Prime Minister Nazim Burke on the 15th June 2011 told participants attending the UNESCO Building Caribbean Knowledge Societies Conference that ICT will empower all citizens of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to improve their quality of life and achieve their full potential.

“There is little doubt that Information Communication Technology acts as a vehicle in bringing services to our people where ever they are. These services include e-banking, e-government, e-learning and a gamut of people-centered interactions,” he said. “Even more importantly, ICT brings with it a myriad of opportunities for employment creation, innovation and entrepreneurship hitherto unimaginable in our region.”

“We cannot and must not wait to be pulled along, kicking and screaming, by the forces of globalization and international competition. ICT and its related benefits have been with us for far too long, for our small countries to lose this opportunity for forward movement,” Burke implored participants.

The two-day conference brought together policy makers, ICT experts, civil society representatives, international organizations and other industry leaders to identify the issues and concerns that hinder the region from utilizing ICT to meet the stated objective of developing “knowledge societies.”

This conference cames on the heels of the May 24-27 thirty sixth meeting of the Council for Trade and Economic Development on Information and Communications Technologies, which discussed the draft Regional Digital Development Strategy and the Draft Regional Implementation Plan for adoption by CARICOM member states.

Minister Burke challenged the meeting to find ways of utilizing Information and Communication Technology to “build a society, in which all our people can access, create, utilize, share and disseminate information and knowledge.”

He noted that while the region has already conceptualized its own Knowledge Network, there is an urgent need to make it operational, with the implementation of CARIBNET in the CARICOM region and OECS Knowledge Network at the sub-regionally level.

“From all indicators, this region is yet to fully embrace the platform created by the ICT revolution. For us in Grenada, we see no meaningful option or alternative,” the Finance Minister stated, noting that the government views ICT as a “transformational sector.”

He outlined a number of steps government has taken that will help to move the sector forward.

Among those measures are the establishment of an ICT Center of Excellence and Innovation, an agreement with the World Bank for Grenada to serve as the pilot in the Caribbean Regional Communications Infrastructure Programme (CARCIP) under which the country will complete the establishment of its national ICT backbone and Grenada’s own Internet Exchange Point (IXP).

Burke said the government is also pushing ahead with plans, announced in its 2011 budget, for the establishment of a new public-private partnership to provide managed IT services, IT infrastructure management, managed network security services, connectivity solutions, data centre services and the programme management of telephony services.

“We cannot continue to run in analogue mode when the world is digital.

To build an effective knowledge society, we must bridge the digital the divide,” Education Minister, Senator Franka Bernadine, said at the opening ceremony of the two-day conference at the Grenadian by Rex Resorts.

The conference focuses on building Caribbean knowledge societies.

One way to achieve this, Sen. Bernadine said, is to reduce the digital divide that limits regional nationals from optimizing their full potential.

It requires allowing them more than having access to technology, and greater effort by educators to alert people to the benefits of technology, the Grenadian Minister said.

“Having technology is just the first step.

When government puts laptops and desktops into the hands of teachers and students, they would have only completed the first part of the process,” she said.

Other barriers will also have to be broken if we have to build knowledge societies.

It is hoped that the IFAP conference will help to develop a Caribbean action plan with well articulated policies to close the digital divide; aid the regional movement toward knowledge-based societies; and build awareness and understanding of the role IFAP.”

IFAP was developed specifically by the executive of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2009 to provide a framework for international corporation and partnership in building an information society for all.

IFAP was created “as a concrete response to the growing technological challenges and opportunities of the nineties which ushered in the age of an information societyand widened the digital divide,” said Bryan Raloykow of UNESCO’s Paris-based headquarters.

Conference participants, who are drawn from throughout the Caribbean, were urged to translate their deliberations into concrete measures.

“Unless ICT for development initiatives are people-centered and explicitly founded on human rights, they run the risk of reinforcing and exacerbating existing problems,” said Davidson Hepburn, President of the General Conference of UNESCO.

You can download the related documents:-


* UNESCO’s Information for All Programme (IFAP) is an intergovernmental body created in 2000 to assist Member States in the formulation of national information policy frameworks. Through IFAP governments have pledged to harness the new opportunities of the information age to create equitable societies through better access to information.
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