With 90 per cent of all Internet users living in developed countries, governments must narrow the gap between North and South by expanding quality education for all, increasing community access to information and communication technology, and sharing scientific knowledge across borders, a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report released today says.
The report, "Towards Knowledge Societies," launched today on the eve of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), analyses the increasingly important role played by knowledge in economic growth and advances that it can serve as a new springboard for development in the countries of the South.
"Those countries and communities that don't recognize this huge reliance on knowledge as a driving force will be left behind," Elizabeth Longworth, Director of UNESCO's Information Society Division, told a press conference at UN Headquarters in New York.
She added that those countries and communities that recognize the importance of cognitive skills and make the resulting investment in education, lifelong learning and cultural facilities and in their research and innovation systems will prosper.
Knowledge societies contribute to the well-being of individuals and communities, and encompass social, ethical and political dimensions while information societies 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, according to the report.
An example of a successful "knowledge society" is Singapore, which started out as a developing country of shantytowns at independence and achieved economic growth rates that surpass those of most industrialized nations in just four decades by promoting education and creativity.
The work is the first in a new series of UNESCO reports, to be published every two years, focusing on subjects at the heart of the Organization's mission such as cultural diversity and sustainable development.