Knowledge versus information societies: UNESCO report takes stock of the difference

The UNESCO report ‘Towards Knowledge Societies’, published this month, urges governments to expand quality education for all, increase community access to information and communication technology, and improve cross-border scientific knowledge-sharing, in an effort to narrow the digital and ‘knowledge’ divides between the North and South and move towards a ‘smart’ form of sustainable human development.

Knowledge societies, the authors stress, are not to be confused with information societies. Knowledge societies contribute to the well-being of individuals and communities, and encompass social, ethical and political dimensions. Information societies, on the other hand, are based on technological breakthroughs that risk providing little more than “a mass of indistinct data” for those who don’t have the skills to benefit from it.

‘The knowledge divide’, the authors write, ‘today more than ever, separates countries endowed with powerful research and development potential, highly effective education systems and a range of public learning and cultural facilities, from nations with deficient education systems and research institutions starved of resources, and suffering as a result of the brain drain’.

Encouraging the development of knowledge societies requires overcoming these gaps, ‘consolidating two pillars of the global information society that are still too unevenly guaranteed – access to information for all and freedom of expression.’

UNESCO (2005): Towards Knowledge Societies