Page 8 of 11
Education for the information society
While the discussion of ICTs is often posed in relationship to a 'knowledge economy' or an 'information society', the latter is usually taken to mean an advanced industrialized economy where service industries account for a very large proportion of the national economy. While this economic structure is identifiable in some nation states, there are very few roadmaps for how such an economic state can be achieved by developing countries and in this respect Asia Pacific is no different from the rest of the world.
There are five novel processes that characterize the Information Society in published literature. Identifying these processes provides an insight to the kind of policy responses required to prepare a population for this emerging society:
As a representative and influential example, Manuel Castells' view is that there is a new mode of development, which he calls informationalism, that is driven by changes in the mode of capitalist production. According to Castells (1996, p. 27), this trend is linked to the rise of the service industry and the informational economy, where the workplace is focused on the generation, manipulation and interpretation of text, images and other symbolic information. The result of these changes is the emergence of a 'skill bias' in changing employment opportunities under information-intensive economies, where jobs requiring manual labour are disappearing and new jobs require higher levels of information literacy and knowledge. Economists have put forward this notion of 'skill-biased technological change' to explain the growing overrepresentation of the least skilled workers in unemployment figures in many countries over the last two decades. Greenan et al. (2002, p. 10) note that this change 'induces an upward drift in the relative efficiency of skilled workers and a downward drift in the cost share of unskilled workers', leading to increased wage inequality without affecting aggregate wage and employment statistics. This is important in ICT4D because regional and national aggregate statistics are usually used as evidence for ICT-induced economic gains but may in fact be coextensive with decreased economic well-being for a majority of people.
While many jobs have been lost through ICT development, many new ones have been created. However, aggregate economic statistics such as job growth, usually used as evidence to support IT-supported economic gains, shed little light on the kinds of jobs that are created and lost in this transformation. Where are the contemporary skills shortages that must be addressed? These are often difficult to map and little is known about changes in on-the-job training. Certification may often be simply for convenience, providing barriers to entry rather than reflecting true business need. For example, the Microsoft Certified Software Engineer (MCSE) qualification became increasingly popular because it provided the type of ICT skills that were/are thought to be relevant in the labour market, but it rapidly produced over-supply (South Africa Human Resource Development Data Warehouse 2004).
There is widespread agreement that education is one of the most important issues in preparing people for the information society and in particular in adapting to technology-enabled networks. European researchers have highlighted three kinds of ICT skills that are important: ICT User Skills, ICT Practitioner Skills and e-Business Skills (European Committee for Standardization 2006):
Chennells and van Reenen (2002, p. 199) suggest that while there is considerable agreement about skill-biased change, there is little research analyzing the means by which technological change translates into higher demand for skills. Their work points to organizational changes made possible through ICT, such as 'delayering, decentralization and giving greater autonomy to workers' as the link between technology and higher skill requirements or professionalization. While computer interfaces have not changed the knowledge that manufacturers must have about their production process, they do provide far more second-by-second information about the process that needs to be interpreted (Shaw 2002, p. 232). Consequently, firms develop highly skilled job designs that reflect this need for interpretation and cognitive skills.
In ICT4D in Asia Pacific, we can see this reflected most clearly in the changes in the telecentre movement. As Raihan and Habib point out in the Bangladesh chapter, a content-based approach gives a new direction to the global telecentre movement. Previously, a telecentre was essentially a technology learning centre and communication centre (with an Internet connection and telephones) which largely relied on the information processing capabilities of the end users. Now, telecentres are able to provide the core information and knowledge service for things such as market opportunities or information on the visits of aid organizations. These functions are unthinkable without ICT. However, ICT use is not the goal but simply a means for the telecentre to become an effective social and informational hub.