|by Azeem Sajjad|
|Published on: May 19, 2007|
|Youth and Social Exclusion in the Information Society
Tale of Two Worlds: Keeping Pace with a Moving Target
(Project Manager-National ICT R&D Fund, Ministry of IT)
In today’s world the concepts of social interaction are redefining with development of new ideas and technologies. Young people are the future work force and earliest adopters of ICTs as well as having a powerful force for change. Youth is in fact the recipient of the policies so their voice should be properly propagated to people involved in the design and evaluation of youth related programs, strategies or policies. Youth every where are faced with the challenges of attempting to broaden their horizons and become global citizens, yet their infrastructure in not accommodating their desire and need. This is necessary to value the input of juvenile and communities in creating and implementing plans for tailored change in an atmosphere of consensus. There must be some framework, building upon existing good practices to identify where changes are required and helping young people to identify strengths and weaknesses in service provisions. The ICT vision and strategy should also focus on young people and not only just technology. For this to happen, it is important to develop both the ICT vision and strategy with the involvement of youth. The information age has modified the working, learning and social conditions for young people. Barriers once evident through time and space are now blurred and new networks of interaction have been came into account. More often it is the younger generations who feel more comfortable using ICTs to further expand their knowledge and information. The new wave of Information Society has provided young people with the tools to explore world otherwise unknown to them.
Social Exclusion occurs when some groups or individuals of society are left vulnerable and are unable to achieve their privileges among other citizens. ICTs make remote and underdeveloped areas of the world globally accessible. Information Society allow for a specialized education and possible employment for those who are under privileged groups. The influence of information age on education, culture, business, government, law, any many more issues is not a trend that is going unnoticed. In developing countries the knowledge and digital chasm exist not only between ethnic communities, but also between rural and urban areas, men and women, the educated and illiterate, rich and poor, high and low income groups, young and old, able bodied and handicapped. It is important to take measures to assist disadvantaged groups in order to get rid of socio-economic inequities. Education, age, gender, poverty, and politics are some of the factors that can lead or decrease social exclusion. In fact, this is caused by imbalance of power and resources and to mitigate it there needs organization against its causes such as corruption, political oppression, ignorance and racism. Information society have powerful platform for organizing against social exclusion and having potential for defending the collective social interest, reducing poverty, promoting social justice and to prevent or reverse the negative impacts of globalization processes on socio-economic development. People all over the globe are beginning to realize that in order to effectively participate in the global marketplace; they need access to the global communications network. Global information society is evolving at faster speed and there is a need to encourage all stakeholders to do their part to connect young people and to create a truly open, inclusive and development oriented information society.
The new ferociously competitive knowledge-based society offers great possibilities for reducing social exclusion, both by creating the economic conditions for greater prosperity and by opening up new ways of participating in society. The emergence of new information and communication technologies constitutes an exceptional opportunity, provided that the risk of creating an ever-widening gap between those who are Information rich and who are Information poor. Knowledge and Information has been more vital factors of our society while emergence of Information Society. Emergence of ICTs in daily life will change our economic, social and culture lives. No doubt ICTs can be used to break-up monopolies of knowledge, by creating new methodologies and connecting with new communities, in fact neo-communities. The vital thing in this regard is to control the reach, in-fact to spread the spectrum of reach to different vulnerable groups. ICTs can provide key resources while accessing news, entertainment, jobs hunting, distance learning or e-learning, virtual teamwork, telework and in different government services like telecenters etc. In developing countries the factor of affordability, lack of local content, lack of technical training, lack of relevant tools, lack of knowledge, rural poverty, lack of regulatory and legal framework are the range of factors involved. Economic growth and social cohesion are mutually reinforcing. It is a precondition for better economic performance that we create a society with greater social cohesion and less exclusion. This technological revolution has made some waves, and even has the largest international body, the United Nations studying and analyzing its impact. ICT’s have led to an Information Society in which the possibilities are endless, but not necessarily without complications or consequences.
Youth in rural areas are mostly neglected in the ICT policy reform process in many countries including Pakistan. Rural areas are considered less viable areas for becoming a part of information society. There are approximately 3 billion people who don’t have access to any form of connectivity, while talking about rural population in Asia. The majority of rural Asians today do not have access to basic telephony (let alone the Internet). Moreover, South Asia, home to 50% of the world’s poor, has more people who do not have access to the Internet or telephony than the rest of the world combined. According to World Bank’s report on the issue of poverty, rural development and economic growth, Nonetheless, Pakistan has made important strides in the last several years to promote rural economic growth and poverty reduction. There is still need to empower the poor and protecting the most vulnerable through social mobilization, safety nets and facilitating access to productive assets for income generating activities.
Some forms of exclusion are systematic exclusions that need to be overcome. In many areas girls and women are excluded from access to education, access to Internet like modern means of communication. This sort of exclusion sub consciously controls the behaviors of women for the opportunities keep them from preparing proactively for coming era. Government can play a role in this vein while adopting ICT policy and using media to create awareness of their rights and future opportunities. Traditional media for communication like radio can also be used along converging media for communication like Internet etc to empower disadvantaged communities like women, who are outside the labor force. There is a need to design effective strategies for paradigm shifts in many dimensions of life while empowering the marginalized communities, which is very necessary to prevent social exclusion. Women outside the labor force and rural agricultural women should have technological skills and access to their respective stock of information, health and education information on continuous basis. The application of ICT to existing community will enhance their social capital base utilizing the various opportunities offered by the information society.
Youth with physical disability is also an important group, as being lesser in strata they are usually neglected by policy makers. There is a need to design strategies and mechanism to meet the special needs of youth with disability. Due to physical constraints like blindness or inability to type, there are many people unable to use ICTs effectively. Such children and young people can be taught with the help of different software and adaptive technologies to provide necessary accessibility. It should be made available to those who are handicapped by some physical or sensory disability. It is also considerable issue that such applications, being developed for disable people are costly and not in easy access in markets. Efforts are required to extend the benefits of ICT to marginalized communities like visually impaired youth. Strategies to empower disabled groups need to be more specialized and should include vocational and other skills training. ICTs centers for the disabled run by the disabled themselves would be ideal for this purpose.
Internet has grown from a research network but now used for email, information, voice over internet protocol etc. Opportunities for debate, discussion and support have been the important usage of Internet. But lack of local content is to redress, because cultural content sustains and explains communities, individuals and groups, as they do not have access to the means to make them heard. There are about 6800 living languages across the world, but Internet content is available mostly in English, being the most prominent. Basic computer literacy is also necessary as young users are needed to be able to negotiate different software platforms. This will guarantee that everyone has the resources necessary to live in accordance with human dignity; so to empower by giving ability to tell about one’s world view is a big opportunity and help them open up new possibilities for participation, collaboration, partnerships and decision-making process.
In many areas different cultural and political group are discriminated against restricting the access to education, employment, property and political power. Such exclusion let them in an entrenched cycle of poverty and joblessness. In many cases people are kept away from accessing information and knowledge, or granted limited resources for some political or economic gains, to keep them from accessing their rights and from organizing. Characterized by increased access to computers and other electronic devices, and rapid growth in mobile technology, ICTs show the potential to be truly transformed in addressing development challenges in this highly diverse region. Although Pakistan is in its infancy stages towards adapting ICTs and is eager to participate in the burgeoning knowledge society, having substantial technological bases, strong and proven institutions, and well-developed human resources.
Like many governments, Government of Pakistan has also made substantial efforts to spread the spectrum of reach, access and use of ICTs. Privatization and the opening of markets have been the prime focus for attracting investment in infrastructure to build networks. Debate on ICT policies, open content and Free and Open Source Software policies and practices are ways forward for open Information Society. Human resource development is the backbone of knowledge based economy. Pakistan is a developing country with a population of approximately 150 million and ranks at as low as 144th position on the Human Development Index. During the last five years, ICTs have been one of the major focus areas of development for the Government of Pakistan. Huge investment has been made in ICT infrastructure and education in the country. Pakistan has improved its telecom structure and further improvements are on their way. Ministry of IT has been conscious of the potential role of Information Society in the country, due to which present Government is enthusiastically engaged in expanding ICT infrastructure in country. National ICT R&D Fund of the country is milestone to improve the human resource capacity building through developing intellectual human resource, the main goal of this fund is for socially or economically deprived youth so that they might be able to entertain the same opportunities and options which others can and the main goal is to access. Universal Service Fund has been established to facilitate building the telecom infrastructure in remote areas and would enhance telephone density in the country. It will also promote much needed investment. LDI licenses will have the rights to acquire, share or lease infrastructure. They will also pay to LLO access promotion contribution. USF will be used to provide connectivity to unserved and under served areas. Govt. is aiming to strengthen the process of socio economic development and empowerment of the disadvantaged section of the society at the grassroots level through transfer of knowledge without ethnic political religious or any other biases.