Education called key to bridging digital divide

Information technology has led to greater efficiencies between businesses, higher labor productivity, lower costs and improved living standards around the world.

Before governments can begin to bridge the digital divide between the technology haves and have-nots, they must address fundamental challenges such as better education and training for its citizens, developing technical infrastructures and other basic issues, according to world and business leaders at the State of the World Forum, a conference being held concurrently with the United Nations Millennium Summit this week.

For example, only one in 3,000 people in Mozambique has Internet access. But perhaps more vexing for it and other African nations is that the illiteracy rate in Africa is more than 50 per cent, according to Joaquim Alberto Chissano, the president of Mozambique.

“New York City has more Internet hosts than the entire African continent,” said Chissano, who believes that investment in education “should be a vital part of national and regional [technology] strategies.”

To that end, governments must also play a role in investing in their nations’ underlying technical infrastructures and setting labor policies, said James Moore, CEO of GeoPartners, a Boston-based Internet business developer.

As a starting point, some governments must address historical problems of gender discrimination and other equality issues to help all their citizens take advantage of the knowledge economy, said Juan Somavia, director general of the International Labor Organization and the secretary general of the U.N. World Summit for Social Development.

The private sector also must become more actively involved in helping the poor and disadvantaged find jobs and take advantage of IT opportunities. Internet companies that have benefited from the dot-com boom “need to question how they are participating as global citizens,” said Marcy Swenson, co-founder of Critical Path Inc.

Chissano agreed. “The private sector can provide its expertise … to the poor regions of the world,” he said.