Education in the Epoch of the Information Society – Building Knowledge Societies
I am very pleased to be with you today, and welcome all participants and guests of the Conference on behalf of the Intergovernmental Council of UNESCO Information For All Program and the Russian Committee of this Program. I am grateful to the organizers of the Conference for the invitation to participate.
I am no teacher nor education organizer, neither am I involved with policy in the domain of education. Within the framework of UNESCO Information For All Intergovernmental Program, I am involved with studying the most common issues of the global information society, such as information availability, information preservation, information ethics, information usage, information literacy, preservation and development of multilingualism in the cyberspace. The UNESCO Information For All Program is the only international Program which studies all these issues with their interconnections, on the basis of interdisciplinary approach involving multistakeholders. We invite specialists from the domains of culture, education, science, communications, and information, as well as practitioners, theoreticians, executives, and politicians to participate in our projects. We believe it to be important to organize our activity exactly like that, since it is at the junction of various sciences and various approaches that the holistic view of the world, of the processes and issues in the global information society, of the methods and means for solution thereto is formed.
Some of our reflections and findings are directly related to education.
Almost all countries today declare the fact that they strive for building a knowledge society, - that is, societies where information and knowledge are acknowledged as the most important resource and play the determinant role in the development. Hence, we must think about such kind of education which makes it possible for the children of today to be active participants and builders of knowledge societies, and autonomously solve the challenges they come to face – professional, personal, social, national, and global.
In doing so, we must be aware of the following. Today, the processes of growing up and socialisation mostly happen beyond the boundaries of the traditional educational environment. Today, television and the Internet, not the teacher, the parents, or books, are perhaps the key educator for children; however, they do not set themselves the purpose of developing thought, language, capacity, creative imagination, morals, and ethics. We live in the conditions of a brand new information environment; our children and teenagers spend more and more time in the Internet, so for many of them the virtual environment substitutes the real life.
Thus, what makes the information environment of today so radically different from the one that existed mere 25-30 years ago, when the majority of this audience of today were children?
Formerly, the publicly accessible content was created by a limited number of authors, publishing houses, television and radio broadcasters. Today, all residents of the planet who have an Internet access from a computer or any other gadget act as authors, publishing houses, television and radio broadcasters.
Formerly, the number of distributed copies of a certain printed text was limited. The distribution took place within a limited territory, within the scope of one country, one territory, one culture, and one language. Today, distribution of information takes place on a global scale.
The period of time within which the focused distribution of a certain content was taking place has also been limited. Only up-to-date content was distributed and circulated. As the content was becoming outdated, it went out of distribution, ceased to be publicly available, and was finally concentrated in the largest archives and libraries.
Today, both up-to-date and outdated information is available for everyone and at the same time on the Internet. By no means one can always distinguish between these; thus, special skills are often required to do so.
The volume of electronic information created and circulating growth exponentially. The mere text information that appeared last year exceeds the volume of all books created by humanity throughout its entire history. Furthermore, the share of text information in the entire volume of information continues to decrease, and is currently less that 0.1%. The rest is audiovisual information: movies, videos, music, images.
Who created publicly available text formerly, in the paper epoch? As a rule, these were the most educated and competent people, aware of their responsibility. Prior to appearing in the public space, the information passed through the selection sieve in publishing houses. The information created by certain qualified people was first evaluated and then thoroughly verified by other qualified people – advisors, editors, proofreaders, examination bureaus, and finally censors. Publishing houses would cut off graphomaniacs.
Currently, the right of man for self-expression has been acknowledged all over the world. As a result, a large number of graphomaniacs, unintelligent, uneducated, irresponsible, and malevolent people create publicly available content in the electronic informational environment, distribute it freely, and even impose it. Therefore, the information environment, first of all the Internet, is not only full of useful information but also (mostly!) - useless, senseless, harmful, false, misleading, and simply dangerous.
We live in a contaminated information environment, and it influences us beyond our will. Thus, whereas the danger of contaminating the physical environment around us is well acknowledged, and the entire world is struggling for preserving a safe environment, the danger of information environment contamination is hardly becoming acknowledged.
The information that formerly circulated in the society had authors that were known. Information publishers and distributors were known. Today, huge volumes of information are created and distributed anomymously. Moreover, they are distributed instantly and globally. Professional monitoring does not exist both at the phase of creating the information and granting access thereto.
Today, television and the Internet, not the books, the teachers, not even the parents, are perhaps the key educator for children. However, they do not set themselves the purpose of developing critical thought, creative imagination, morals, and ethics.
These are all global problems.
The globalized world of today is absorbed by children not aurally, nor by reading, but by means of images which he or she sees on a TV or computer screen since babyhood. Such perception of the world does not require training and effort of the intellect, imagination, and memory. It is no wonder that the interest towards reading and competent absorption of serious texts is decreasing, and perception thereof is becoming more and more superficial. The number of actively qualified readers is decreasing in all social groups; the quantity and quality of the material to be read is dropping. Reading has been displaced to the lifestyle periphery. The level of reading and general culture competence of people in various countries is decreasing year by year – not only with children but also with working adults. It is also a global challenge generated by the development of electronic mass media, the Internet, and the entertainment industry. The lust for entertainment, not cognitive demand, is becoming the key incentive for searching and consuming information on the Internet.
Due to fact that people read less, their possession of the wealth of language is inferior; therefore, it gets even more difficult for them to express any complicated idea even in their native language, their understanding of complex written and oral speech as well as in-depth sense of the complicated reality is worsening. There are even less encyclopaedically educated people capable of in-depth comprehensive analysis. They are replaced by the Internet generation which, instead of going to libraries, searching, reading, and analysing, advocate a quick and simple ‘copy and paste’ method. This, too, is a global problem.
Information knows no national boundaries today. People living in one culture are facing the terms, meanings, samples, models, cliches, and stereotypes developed within the framework of another culture continuously and even more than that; they borrow and operate it all, oftentimes without criticism or even thought. Moreover, not only cultural enrichment but also cultural expansion processes take place. Any kind of borrowing from another culture, when transmitted to a different socio-cultural environment without taking into account its socio-cultural specific features, generate consequences that are unexpected and oftentimes contradictory to those expected.
The openness of the information space leads to a situation whereby many countries lose their informational and cultural sovereignty.
Many young and not so young people who communicate in social networks, oftentimes with absolute strangers, voluntarily waive their privacy, and are nowhere near understanding the consequences of such openness.
Mass communication media keep becoming mass entertainment and manipulation media. A great number of mass conscience manipulations occur on the Internet and global mass media.
There is trillion times more information now; it is believed that there are many more key sources of information now, and the more information there is, and the more diverse it is, the more pluralism there is, and the better it is for democracy or export of democracy. However, the hundreds of multiplying digital television channels purchase information – both text and pictures – from a couple of dozens of families that own almost all key global media. Therefore, all mass media ‘feed’ people in all countries with essentially the same content.
Absorption of quality, reliable, and verified information is decreasing.
We have entered a phase of development where everyone manipulates everybody; thus, how to retain focus in a situation like this is a philosophical question which has not been solved in any manner.
The information environment of today erases the concepts of what is ideal and normal - both in terms of behaviour, the content of statement, and the language – written and oral. What has formerly been prohibited is now accessible for children. Formerly, as a rule, children only read what very smart, talented, and educated people wrote – those who had a perfect command of the language of literature. Today, as a rule, they read what their peers write, and they perceive what their peers write and the way the write as the standard. Communications between children and adults are absolutely different today. Actually, so are communications between children.
Children freely operate computers; they oftentimes do it better than adults; however, this does not mean they are correctly guided within the informational environment surrounding them, only extracting useful and safe information and the required and useful knowledge from it. Children grow in an informational environment which is sometimes difficult even for adults to find their way around.
This is why I would like to dwell upon a need to generate a skill with children to autonomously, responsibly, and sensibly live in the conditions of this brand new information reality.
This is our world. We do not have another one – not now, nor in the future.
Therefore, all over the world one can hear more and more frequently of the need to build a capacity with people to understand and formulate their information requirements, capability and skills to look for and find the information required, evaluate it, use it correctly, create and distribute their own informational product, understand other people’s information requirements. This is relevant both for analogue and digital media information – both from the Internet and traditional libraries and archives.
People must be trained to live in the information society from their infanthood – from school and even kindergarten, and on to secondary vocational education and universities. This will help them overcome the ‘information jungle’ and, forging their way through it, build a correct view of the world and find their own decent place in it.
Throughout last decades, the global practice has seen the development and implementation of two close concepts – the media literacy concept and the information literacy concept.
Media literacy implies the capability to understand the specific mass media language and master this language, the capability to find one’s way in the torrents of information that rush upon us through mass media.
Information literacy does not only imply command of computer technologies but also building a demand for information with people from infanthood and in the entire course of further education, as well as a clear understanding of the fact that the Internet now has a multitude of diverse answers to virtually any question, requiring a thoughtful attitude and a conscious choice. I would focus your attention on the fact that the level of literacy in the domain of ICT – that is, a good computer usage capability – does not exceed 10% in the total scope of the information literacy concept which is shared and developed by an ever-growing number of countries.
The information literacy includes, on the one hand, highly intellectual procedures related to information search, analysis, synthesis, and critical evaluation; on the other hand – the inseparability of information search and sensible processing from efficient usage of information found in the work, learning, and any other activity.
In Russia, we have for along time been saying that we must build informational thinking and informational mentality, and generate personal informational culture.
We saw the solution to this large-scale task in integrating the efforts of educational establishments and libraries.
Very recently, within the scope of the UNESCO Information For All Program, we have agreed upon the need for uniting all concepts available, and continue speaking of media and information literacy.
In 2012, Russia hosted the International Conference ‘Media and Information Literacy in Knowledge Societies’. Following the results of the work of the conference, representatives of 40 countries of the world adopted the Moscow Declaration On Media And Information Literacy. Today this is a highly quotable document. UNESCO and UN Alliance Of Civilizations have declared in March 2013 that they are intending to build their further operations on the basis of definitions, ideas, and provisions of this very document.
A Joint Action Plan is being implemented with International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) – in particular, Recommendations on promoting media and information literacy for high-profile politicians and governments have been developed. The UNESCO Training Program for media and information literacy teachers has been developed and published. UNESCO is currently developing media and information literacy indicators. Our Polish colleagues have prepared an excellent Media And Information Literacy Skills Catalogue. One month ago we have published it in the Russian language. All these materials are available on the Internet.
Thus, building media and information literacy with the population is a new area of activity which is actively developed in the most advanced educational establishments in many countries of the world.
What is to be done to promote media and information literacy universally? The Moscow Declaration On Media And Information Literacy describes this as follows. It is required to:
- Recognize that Media and Information Literacy is essential to the well-being and progress of the individual, the community, the economy and civil society;
- Integrate Media and Information Literacy promotion as a priority in all national educational, cultural, information, media and other policies;
- Outline responsibilities, develop capacity and promote collaboration between and among the different stakeholders (government, educational, media and youth organizations, libraries, archives, museums, and NGOs, among others);
- Encourage education systems to initiate structural and pedagogical reforms necessary for enhancement of Media and Information Literacy;
- Integrate Media and Information Literacy in the curricula including systems of assessment at all levels of education, inter alia, lifelong and workplace learning and teacher training;
- Prioritize support to networks and organizations working on Media and Information Literacy issues, and invest in capacity building;
- Develop and implement Media and Information Literacy standards;
- Promote related competencies which support reading, writing, speaking, listening and viewing;
- Encourage an intercultural dialogue and international cooperation while promoting Media and Information Literacy worldwide.
We also pay a great attention to the media and information literacy domain because it is only highly educated people possessing a high level of media and information literacy can efficiently develop the work towards building knowledge societies, namely:
1) develop, on strictly scientific principles, and pursue a relevant policy;
2) create up-to-date quality information and streamline it;
3) distribute and create multilingual systems for access to information, and prerequisites for due usage thereof;
4) ensure selection and preservation of information that may be useful in the future;
5) generate, improve, and embed principles of ethical behaviour in the new informational environment within the society.