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ICTs–Developing the human potential

Written by  Ambassador Dr Makarim Wibisono
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Ambassador Dr Makarim WibisonoIssue:Asia-Pacific I 2005
Article no.:1
Topic:ICTs–Developing the human potential
Author:Ambassador Dr Makarim Wibisono
Title:Member
Organisation:UN-ICT Task Force
PDF size:68KB

About author

Dr Makarim Wibisono is the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, permanent Representative of the Republic of Indonesia to the United Nations and other International Organisations in Geneva. Dr Wibisono currently is a Member of the United Nations Information and Communication Technology (UN -ICT) Task Force, Chairman of the APEC Counter Terrorism Task Force and a former President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) for the United Nations in 2000. Before moving to Geneva, Dr Wibisono was Director-General for Asia Pacific and Africa and Director-General for Foreign Economic Relations, Department of Foreign Affairs, Indonesia. Dr Wibisono has a PhD and Master of Arts Degree in Political Economy from Ohio State University, a Master of Arts Degree from the Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, Washington DC and a Doctorandus Degree in International Relations, Gajah Mada University, Jogyakarta, Indonesia

 

Article abstract

Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) boost economic, social and cultural development, facilitate efforts to combat poverty and promote equality and gender empowerment. Developing countries trying to implement ICTs have often failed due to the quality of the available human resources. This is a dilemma, since many countries implement ICTs precisely to improve their human resources capacity. To foster sustainable human development, a concerted effort is needed to integrate ICTs into educational programmes and to promote learning as a basic human right.

 

Full Article

It is undeniable that the development of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) has greatly affected the lives of many people. ICTs have brought people closer together than ever before by providing a more efficient medium to access and share information. In fact, it is almost a cliché to say that the use of technology is one of the characteristics of globalisation. The advent of ICTs has profoundly transformed the way we see the world. For instance, to operate a broadcast news station today, we would only need a very small fraction of the hundreds of people that would have been needed in the past. This situation could be construed as having negative implications on employment opportunities. However, we must not overlook the positive aspects of ICTs in their ability to significantly improve efficiency. Even a very cursory study of ICTs reveals their complex nature and their close association with a myriad of other pertinent issues. Furthermore, a comparison between countries shows that there are enormous disparities in their technological advancement. These disparities exist not only between the developed and developing countries, but also among developing countries. Despite these differences, ICTs can be used to strengthen national development. ICTs have the power to boost economic, social and cultural development, facilitate efforts to combat poverty and promote equality and gender empowerment. In some countries, such as India, China and Peru, harnessing ICTs has proven to be an effective way of combating poverty. Nevertheless, the main focus of encouraging the use of ICTs for development is not the technologies themselves, but their impact on humanity. Some analysts point out that if the main focus were solely on ICTs, there would be a tendency for the human element to recede into the background. This is why we should concentrate on improving and developing human resources. Through education and increased knowledge, ICTs will offer tremendous potential for development. In this regard, the focus should be on human capacity and on creating equal opportunities for all. Having seen the benefits of ICTs in various countries, many developing countries have tried to implement ICTs in numerous areas, occasionally with success, but more often with failure. The recent World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) which took place in Geneva, Switzerland in December 2003, served as a catalyst to encourage countries to implement and develop ICTs. As countries began to produce their national e-strategies to fulfil the targets of WSIS, questions were raised as to the problems that may potentially lead to failed ICT projects. Many attributed the low quality of human resources to the failures. This is a dilemma since many countries implement ICTs precisely to improve their human resources capacity. Thus, the central question becomes what is the minimum level of human resource capacity required by a country to enable it to leapfrog through the use of ICTs. During Indonesia’s presidency of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations in 2000, we promoted and concentrated on the importance of ICTs for development. This critical issue was put on the agenda of the High-Level Segment of the ECOSOC, where ministers exchanged views and established a common stance on the importance of ICTs in the promotion of development and the eradication of poverty. The discussions could be described as a warm-up session before the meeting of Heads of State at the General Assembly, which resulted in the Millennium Declaration and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The outcome of deliberations and consultations in the ECOSOC led to the Ministerial Declaration on Development and encouraged international co-operation in the twenty-first century in the sphere of information and communication technology, especially within the context of the knowledge-based global economy. In the Declaration, the consensus is that ICTs will provide unique opportunities for economic growth and human development. Discussions in the ECOSOC and the UN Secretary General’s subsequent establishment of the UN-ICT Task Force show that the issue is critical. Unless there is sufficient preparation, as well as willingness and understanding on the part of technologically advanced countries, the ideal objective of creating an altogether better world cannot be accomplished. In this regard, the UN-ICT Task Force can, through its objectives, contribute to human development. In discussing the current dilemma facing many developing countries, the main strategy should be to invest in education and training. Without question, governments should spearhead these efforts to ensure proper implementation, while engaging the private sectors. In this context, the participation of the private sector, particularly the ICT industries, will indeed remain crucial. Despite uneven access to ICTs, also known as the digital divide, ICT industries can nevertheless still bridge the gap for countries wanting to reap the benefits of modern technology. During the United Nations Millennium Summit in 2000, a set of quantifiable goals was agreed upon—the Millennium Development Goals—as a coherent framework from which we could focus our efforts. Under the Global Partnership Development Plan, the private sector has a role to play by ensuring that everyone benefits from advancements in technology, particularly ICTs. The involvement of private sectors will, hopefully, allow greater access to training and not, on the contrary, block access to it. In effect, training should be demand-driven to ensure that user needs are reflected and taken into account and the objectives they wish to pursue are fulfilled. Moreover, it should be noted that education and training cannot be provided for every individual, or even country, simultaneously, on the same level and at the same pace. In this regard, it is also important to realise that human capacity can be developed by tailoring individual needs to the particularities of each case. With adequate training, individuals can easily meet their future technological needs. This is vital, given that technology continues to evolve, so people need to not only keep rapidly up with the latest technological advancements, but also learn to utilise them properly. The commitment and political will of governments, especially those of industrialised countries, as well as that of ICT companies should prevail, as they carry enormous power in assuring the dream of a prosperous and peaceful world. The most important steps will be the commencement and acceleration of the transfer of technology. At this point, it is worth noting that ICTs’ potential contribution to human development, which includes elimination of gender disparities, is currently compromised by the unevenness in the pace and spread of these technologies. Urgent action is needed to ensure that men and women participate equally in the ICT sectors. It is also critical that there should be programmes designed to encourage young people to access ICTs and that employment is created to attract them to stay, build and expand their capabilities and help develop their respective country’s economy. On the subject of education, it is important to promote learning as a basic human right, but due to socio-economic disparities between developed and developing countries, people in most developing countries do not even have access to education. In the context of ICT literacy, a concerted effort has to be made to integrate ICTs into educational programmes. This is needed to design and implement a well-defined infrastructure, which could also promote sustainable development. This issue was clearly stated in the Tokyo Declaration on the WSIS: The Asia-Pacific Perspective (2002) that ICTs can contribute to enhancing the quality of teaching and learning and sharing knowledge and information. It is hoped that through this process, the level of literacy and ICT skills will be greatly increased. Education will foster sustainable human development, reduce poverty and empower people to capitalise on their potential and skills. One other challenge that stands in the way of achieving these goals is, notably, the fact that developing countries have restricted access to technology owned by the developed countries. For example, advanced countries often use intellectual property rights to protect access to modern technology. Therefore, a more harmonious balance between protection and access must be achieved. Likewise, we must underscore the importance of narrowing the gap between countries. This can best be accomplished by first allowing access to ICTs in developing countries and second making it affordable for them. Connectivity is another vital element that must be considered if the implementation of ICTs is to give hope to anyone wishing to partake of the benefits of globalisation. In fact, connectivity is very central to enabling the construction of a foundation whereby everyone can participate and have equal access to technology. In this context, an example of what has been done to develop human capacity is the Government of Indonesia’s Information Technology Kiosk Programme, which was created to empower people by providing information on technologies useful to them. It can therefore be concluded that access to ICT education and training is critically important for the acceleration and expansion of a knowledge-based global society. For this reason, investments in education and training, including basic and digital literacy, with consideration for culturally diverse digital content and material, are fundamental to the development of human capacity. Hence, in order to take advantage of the potential benefits of information technology, these measures should be some of the core strategies adopted by each government and by other interested stakeholders. Moreover, it is important, through education, to develop human resources capable of responding to the demands of the modern information age and, similarly, able to address the rising demand for ICT professionals in various sectors. Increasing human capacity through ICT education and training will help countries meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and thus encourage the establishment of a knowledge-based global society.

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