Professor, Department of Media and Communications, London School of Economics and Political Science, UK
If investment in digital networks and access to digital information is to support the sustainable development agenda, it must respect the aspirations of local people. Ramping up investment in networks to connect the unconnected is only a first step. Inclusive people-centred knowledge societies cannot be achieved without paying attention to local contexts. This is because knowledge for development requires listening to the voices of local people and treating multiple knowledge systems respectfully. Translating digital information into knowledge that is responsive to local needs requires experience in a context. It requires formal and informal learning about how to integrate digital information into people’s lives in ways that are consistent with human dignity. Tensions between investing in digital literacy learning opportunities that can enable people to evaluate digital information and investing in hardware or software should be resolved in favour of digital literacy training for young people and adults. When people acquire skills to make sense of their complex information environments this can help to ensure that participatory deliberation is effective. Such training can support local groups in making choices about preferred pathways to advanced knowledge societies that are consistent with their local development needs and goals.
UNESCO’s sponsorship of ROAM – a human rights-based, open and accessible Internet governed by multi-stakeholder participation – is one key element of an inclusive pathway towards knowledge societies, but it is also essential for digital literacy training to be available to both learners and educators. Without greater investment in digital literacy, the pathway to advanced knowledge societies will reinforce elite ideas and visions, instead of giving local communities the resources, visibility and voice they need to promote equitable responses to the SDGs.