World Summit on the Information Society

Modern information and communications technologies and knowledge societies are two issues in the Mauritius Strategy that figure prominently in continuing discussions associated with the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and its two summit meetings in Geneva (December 2003) and Tunis (November 2005) and their follow up. UNESCO’s contribution is rooted in its mandate to promote the free exchange of ideas and knowledge.

Within that constitutional mandate, UNESCO’s principal concerns during the WSIS process (knowledge societies as well es related topics such as access to content, cultural diversity, freedom of expression, investments in science and technology, etc) are all of special interest to small-island nations. In turn, UNESCO has provided and is continuing to provide support to island countries and organizations in regions such as the Pacific, in raising the profile of their regions in respect to the summits in Geneva and Tunis (including the Asia–Pacific preparatory conference held in Tokyo in January 2003) and their follow-up. Among sources of information is an Action Directory of UNESCO activities related to the WSIS and its follow-up.

In terms of the summit process itself, some of the small-island states have been active in using the WSIS to generate visibility for their cultural, socio-economic and geographic specificity, which requires special ICT solutions. For UNESCO and others partners in the island regions, the WSIS process offered an opportunity to raise awareness and stress the importance of: (a) ICT policies and strategies for national development; (b) access to relevant content alongside access to technology and infrastructure; (c) political will and awareness for underpinning cultural diversity and locally relevant content in cyberspace, which do not happen by themselves; (d) the free flow of information, and freedom of expression and information, as essential conditions to access; (e) the use of ICTs for teacher education in SIDS.

In short, some SIDS have made remarkable progress in applying ICTs to development needs. But there is a big gap between the most and least advanced countries. Much remains to be done, notably in terms of affordable and accessible connectivity and local content and in considering the general concept of ‘knowledge societies’ within the context of SIDS and the importance accorded to ‘local and indigenous knowledge’ in many small-island cultures.

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