Contents - Previous - Next
This is the old United Nations University website. Visit the new site at http://unu.edu
3. Activities of some international bodies in information technologies cooperation
3.1 The International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP)
The IFIP came into official existence in January 1960. It was founded under the auspices of Unesco to meet a need identified at the first International Conference on Information Processing held in Paris in June 1959 under the sponsorship of this UN organization.
The IFIP is a non-profit organization with the following basic aims:
- To promote information science and technology;
- To advance international cooperation in the field of information processing;
- To stimulate research, development, and the application of information processing in science and in practical activity;
- To further the dissemination and exchange of information on Information processing;
- To encourage education in information processing.
The IFIP is devoted to improving worldwide communication and increased understanding among practitioners of all nations about the role information processing can play in all walks of life.
Information, science, and technology, together with informatics, are potent instruments in today's world and affect people's lives, in everything from their education and work to their leisure and their homes. They are powerful tools in science and engineering, in commerce and industry, in education and administration. They are truly international in scope and offer a significant opportunity for the developing countries. The IFIP helps to bring together professionals in all spheres of practice, research, and education to share their knowledge and experience and acts as a catalyst to advance the state of the art.
The IFIP's mission is to be the leading, truly international, apolitical organization that encourages and assists in the development, exploitation, and application of information technology for the benefit of all people.
The IFIP aims to assist developing countries in their application of information processing and cooperates with Unesco to achieve this. Responsibility for planning and overseeing the work rests with the Developing Countries Support Committee (DCSC).
The aim of the DCSC is to promote the cooperation of the IFIP with the developing countries through the sharing of IFIP experience, technical information, and knowledge and to help developing countries and areas with their specific needs and requests. The DCSC's programme includes distribution of IFIP publications, regional activities, and training courses and seminars. Support has also been offered to the developing countries to participate in IFIP conferences.
3.2 The Intergovernmental Informatics Programme (IIP) of Unesco
The IIP is the youngest intergovernmental programme of Unesco . The first meeting of the Committee was held in October 1986 in Sofia, Bulgaria, and the activities began in 1987. In the short intervening time, the IIP made considerable progress.
The programme for action of the IIP is based on the following priorities:
- Training of specialists, researchers, instructors, users, and maintenance technicians;
- Information exchange networks between institutions specialized in informatics with a view to carrying out joint or complementary activities;
- Production of software for informatics and computer-assisted teaching, and for the management of education systems or other applications in various fields of activity;
- Studies on the implementation of integrated policies and strategies for sectorial computerization;
- Research and development in informatics with a view to making the best use of the human resources available (so as to create, innovate, or adapt in the fields of theoretical and applied informatics).
These priorities, which concern in varying degrees both the industrialized and the developing countries, form a good basis for regional and international cooperation.
The importance of the IIP for member countries of Unesco may be judged by the quality and the number of projects submitted to the Bureau. The projects were evaluated on the basis of the selection criteria established by the Committee. The requests for financial support usually exceed by tenfold the money available. To prevent dissipation of the limited resources, the Bureau was obliged to make a strict selection and resort to partial financing, despite the high calibre of the projects.
In principle, training is one of the main priorities of the IIP as it has very often been the lack of skilled manpower that slowed development. The
Committee considered that training should extend beyond the training of specialists in informatics. It was felt a priority matter to train instructors, users, and maintenance technicians, and also to train researchers so that they could use informatic techniques to speed up their research and improve economic performance in their countries.
3.3 The Committee on Data for Science and Technology (CODATA) of the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU).
CODATA is an interdisciplinary ICSU body founded in 1966 . CODATA is concerned with all types of quantitative data resulting from experimental measurement or observations in the physical, biological, geological, and astronomical sciences. Particular emphasis is given to data management problems common to different scientific disciplines and to data used outside the field in which they were generated. The general objectives are the improvement of the quality and accessibility of data, as well as the methods by which data are aquired, managed, and analysed; facilitation of international cooperation among those collecting, organizing, and using data; and the promotion of an increased awareness in the scientific and technical communities of the importance of these activities.
The activities of CODATA are extremely important for international scientific cooperation in astronomy, geology, ecology, biology, and many other sciences, where a large amount of data has to be used in a standardized way.
Factual data constitute the essence of scientific knowledge. Easy access to data is a basic condition of the evolution of science. The colossal increase in the generation and collection of data poses major financial, technical, and ethical problems to the potential user. The gap between producers and consumers of data is expected to widen throughout the world in the future.
There are two more interdisciplinary groups in the ICSU that deal in different ways with data activities. They are: GAGS, the Federation of Astronomical and Geophysical Data Analysis, and the WDC Panel, or World Data Centers Panel.
3.4 University-based Critical Mass System for Information Technology (USIT) of the International Association of Universities (IA U)
The International Association of Universities has introduced, in cooperation with Unesco's Intergovernmental Informatics Programme (IIP), the University-based Critical Mass System for Information Technology (USIT) . The purpose of the USIT is to improve and unify the access, adaptation, and use of computer technology in higher education on a world scale. The USIT provides a comprehensive strategy for higher education institutions. It addresses management, research, and teaching needs, duly accounting for the particular economic, social, and cultural conditions in different national settings.
The USIT approach is based on the following assumptions:
- Higher educational institutions, as agents of change, are the best vehicles for creating a critical mass in the utilization of a new information technology- a "critical mass" consisting of levels of knowledge and usage that allow the activity to be self-sustained.
- The critical mass is decisive because, in industrialized and developing countries, the availability of computers and the utilization of information technology is neither uniform nor sufficient to allow the creation of effective knowledge and consumer bases.
- The higher education system, with its different types of institutions, should be a major developer and dispenser of technology. These institutions are in a unique position to lead in informatics development and to work as partners with the governmental and private sectors. By focusing on higher education, the USIT addresses an indispensable component of the larger national informatics effort.
- Optimization of informatics development and utilization within available resources is badly needed.
The USIT aims to promote optimization by assisting in such matters as original purchase and delivery, assuring hardware and software compatibility, and constant upgrading to meet changing needs and conditions.
Central to the rationale for the "critical mass" is the fact that the utilization of information technologies tends to be dispersed, of low intensity, and lacking support structures that permit either optimal or efficient applications. The critical mass system is designed to achieve long-term goals by promoting the self-sufficiency of users. Educational, human resource development, and support programmes are developed with the aim of reducing the involvement of outside personnel and the need for outside assistance.
The implementation of the USIT started in Africa. A Research Committee, consisting of 20 persons who indicated an interest, was organized. Six specialists with a special expertise in informatics will serve on a Project Steering Committee. A proposal to support the USIT was submitted to the International Development Research Centre and a grant to fund data collection was received. The study sample will be drawn from the 62 IAU member universities in Africa.
4. Educational strategies
From an analysis of the activities of the international organizations just reviewed, it is obvious that the problems of education and training dominate. That is only natural, and a very clear view of concepts and strategies for education in the information age is essential.
If one regards the computer as an extension of the human mind, it follows that the aim of education in the future should be to educate human beings with an extended mind.
An analysis of the character of computer use in education [12, 13, 16] shows three main tendencies:
(1) the computer as an object of study;
(2) the computer as a training device;
(3) the computer as an extension of the human mind.
All three have their place in education, but the third will lead to the most profound and essential, since it changes the very object of education.
It is natural to expect changes in the methodology, as well as in the content, of education.
The change in school curricula is particularly significant. But this change cannot be carried out easily because of the traditional conservatism of educational systems, as well as the fairly rapid improvement of computers. I do not mean that the object of education has already changed; it is still undergoing a change. An adequate school training model will develop and crystallize only as the result of a long and difficult process.
The expected changes in the contents of education are measured against Bloom's taxonomy concerning the hierarchic aims of education . These can be grouped in three main domains:
(1) the cognitive domain, concerned with knowledge and its use;
(2) the affective domain, concerned with emotional responses and values that are taught;
(3) the psychomotor domain, concerned with physical and manipulative skills.
The changes in education will affect most substantially the first domain of Bloom's taxonomy. The second and third domains will undergo minor changes. Manipulative skills will probably change considerably.
4.1. Education Curricula and Knowledge Structure
I shall share my view of some principles for education in the information era that have been implemented in an educational project in Bulgaria during the last decade [13, 15, 16,17, 18].
The basic principle is the integrity of knowledge. The principle of integrity, or the wholeness of education, is not a new one. The idea of studying objects and phenomena from different points of view, and combining knowledge of different school subjects, is a well-known approach, particularly in primary education. The very integrity of knowledge itself can have different characteristics. Specialization is possible within the different subjects, while at the same time examining and emphasizing their interconnections remains the focus of the learning objectives.
Another approach is integration on the basis of fundamental ideas from different fields of knowledge. Methods using projects are well-known, and achieved great popularity in the 1920s and 1930s in the United States.
The integrated approach for the information era is of a special nature and differs in principle from other methods of education defined as integral. The basic difference lies in the emphasis placed on the need for integration of knowledge as a consequence of a qualitatively new situation - the emergence of new information technologies. This new situation can be characterized by the following embroilments:
- the school will no longer be the sole nor the most attractive source of knowledge;
- quick and unhindered acquisition of knowledge in a pleasant atmosphere will be provided through TV, radio, and computer networks.
These sources therefore provide strong competition for the school. However, there is one aspect of school education that cannot be rivalled by other sources of information. This is the unique commitment and capacity of the school to provide systematized and well-structured knowledge. Hence, in the era of highly advanced information technologies, the main preoccupation of the school should be the systematization and structuring of knowledge, whereby emphasis is laid on fundamental and universally valid principles. In this sense, the integration of knowledge acquires a special significance. The purpose of the integrated approach to education in the information era is not to limit the learning in different spheres to a certain body of facts needed to carry out a definite practical job, or to develop a project. What I have in mind is just the opposite. It is to concentrate the attention of the student on the basic and valid principles from the viewpoint of a large number of scientific subjects. That will encourage further independent study and the utilization of specific information through information technologies.
It is easy enough to formulate this requirement in principle, of course, but it is rather more difficult to implement it as a particular learning process incorporating curricula, textbooks, and study aids. The school, even the university, is not in a position to provide sufficient knowledge for the entire range of human working life. It can be said that man's life-span will continue to increase in the future, if by this we mean the degree of change man will experience in his environment throughout his life. Because of rapid change, it is no longer possible for a school to equip the future citizen with the knowledge and skills to serve for a lifetime. No doubt citizens will be compelled to study all their lives. So the chief task facing the school of today is to teach pupils how to learn. In this respect, the integrated approach has indisputable advantages; it enables the student to observe natural and social phenomena from different angles and stimulates the need for a constant search for new relationships and facts.
5. Developing countries
Special attention in the area of international cooperation in information technology is given to the developing countries, as shown in the activities of Unesco  and its International Informatics Programme (IIP), as well as the International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP) and the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU). The importance of information technologies for developing countries is emphasized first of all in the field of education. To prepare for the coming new technologies, it is natural first to educate the new users.
Strategies for education in the information era may differ in different countries, but the main principles are more or less universal. The special difficulties in the developing countries are connected with the lack of hardware and communication.
It is very important for the developing countries to set their priorities in information technologies [8, 11]. It is strongly advised to develop first powerful communication facilities, even if this slows down, in the beginning, the general process of development. Investing in communication is decisive for all other activities. Reliable communications are necessary for effective international cooperation in all fields and for using international information services.
6. Negative tendencies and illusions
Some have said that in an information era, with powerful computers, excellent communications, and access to knowledge bases, the pupil will need less education. If we use the analogy between energy and information, the argument may go as follows: In the industrial era, men learned how to make use of the laws of Nature to have energy available in sufficient amount and whenever needed. That made human beings physically very powerful, having at hand energy from many different processors (transformers) of energy. The natural human physical energy lost its value as a productive force. The most physically powerful men and women in the industrial era often found their vocations in sports and entertainment, but not in industry. In the information era, man will learn how to use Nature and its laws to have information available in sufficient amount and whenever available. Following the analogy, we may expect that in the information era, natural human knowledge as capacity to produce information will lose its value. It is difficult to deny this possibility. But it would be wrong to conclude that because of this, in the information era we shall need less education. It is completely true, though, that we shall need a different type of education.
Let us mention also the opinion of Brauer and Brauer , leading specialists in computer education:
There are different opinions on what the implications of computers to education really are. A number of people even think that the better the computerized tools (and in particular their man/machine interfaces and their knowledge bases) are, the less important becomes education. The opposite opinion (and this is ours) is that everybody needs a thorough education (adequate to its level of knowledge) on how a computer and its software work in order to be able to use the computer in an optimal way which includes knowing about its limitations and disadvantages. This education should make clear that a computer is merely a tool which cannot assume any responsibility for what it does, but a tool which is of a completely new type: it amplifies our mental capabilities, in contrast to the traditional tools which serve for physical work.
The supposition, that in the information era we need less education, is wrong. On the contrary, education will become much more necessary and a lifelong process. International cooperation in education at all levels is very important to eliminate this dangerous illusion.
The enthusiasm born of the first use of computers, for processing highly structured information, or for processing of knowledge, as it is usually called, creates another illusion. It is believed that it will be possible to use knowledge processing and Artificial Intelligence to build fully automatic factories and eliminate human beings from participation in industry and industrialized agriculture. The opinion in this respect of Coy and Bonsiepen  is as follows:
The general idea of the "fully automatic" factory which is supported by artificial intelligence products like expert systems is wrong and leads to the wreckage of many Computer Aided Manufacturing projects. It is dangerously wrong because of its consequences for all participants in this adventure.... The use of expert systems in risky environments - where quick decisions are demanded, must be considered irresponsible. The control of nuclear, chemical or petrochemical factories by expert systems leads to irresponsible actions and must therefore be prohibited.... Though we probably cannot avoid the transfer of responsibility from humans to machine systems, it should be clear that this responsibility transfer must stay transparent to the users.
It is important to realize the difference between knowledge as structured information in a human brain and that in a computer. The difference is in the rules defining the structure. We still do not know how the educational process structures the acquired information. This structure, as mentioned above, is most probably individualized and dynamic. The obvious difference between the rules producing these two types of knowledge has to convince us that they are different breeds of knowledge. To distinguish them, we use the notions "natural knowledge" and "artificial knowledge." The illusion that these two types of knowledge are identical and mutually exchangeable is wrong and may be dangerous.
1. Brauer, W., and U. Brauer (1989). "Better Tools-Less Education?" In: Information Processing '89, IFIP Congr. 1989. Amsterdam: Elsevier, North-Holland, pp. 101-106.
2. Coy, W., and L. Bonsiepen (1989). 'Expert Systems: Before the Flood?" In: Information Processing '89, IFIP Congr. 1989. Amsterdam: Elsevier, NorthHolland, pp. 1167- 1172.
3. Douglas, A.S., and A.L. Olver (1988). "The Fourth Annual Conference on Information Technology for Developing Countries." Information Technology for Development 3(3): 249-258.
4. Dreyfus, H. (1972). What Computers Can't Do. New York: Harper and Row.
5. General Conference of Unesco, Twenty-sixth Session, Paris 1991, Document 26 C/99.
6. Gronlund, N.E. (1976). Measurement and Evaluation in Teaching. New York: CollierMacmillan.
7. Gruska, J. "Why We Should Not Only Repair, Polish and Iron Current Computer Science Education." Proc. IFIP Workshop "Informatics at the University Level: Teaching Advanced Subjects in the Future." Forthcoming.
8. Gupta, P.P. (1986). "Can Developing Countries Compete in Information Technology?" In: Information Processing 86. Proc. IFIP Congress, Dublin, Ireland, 1-5 Sept. 1986. Amsterdam: North-Holland, pp. 77-78.
9. Hayman, J. (1991). "LAW's USIT Informatics and Research Programme: Informatics Research in Africa." Higher Education Policy 4(3): 49-51.
10. International Council of Scientific Unions. Year Book 1992.
11. Kohly, F.C. (1986). "Information Policy Issues in Developing Countries." In: Information Processing 86. Proc. IFIP Congress, Dublin, Ireland, 1-5 Sept. 1986. Amsterdam: NorthHolland, pp. 591-597.
12. Sendov, B. (1978). "Informatique, ordinateurs et education." Impact: science et société 28 (3): 287-292.
13. Sendov, B. (1992). "Une education adaptée a l'ere de l'information. Impact: science et société 146: 203-212.
14. Sendov, B. (1985). "Information and Knowledge." In: Formal Models in Programming. Amsterdam: North-Holland, IFIP, pp. 97-101.
15. Sendov, B. (1986). "Children in an Information Age, Tomorrow's Problems Today." In: Children in an Information Age. Oxford: Pergamon Press, pp. 195-200.
16. Sendov, B. (1988). "Children in an Information Age." Education & Computing 4: 21-26.
17. Sendov, B. (1989). "A Broad View of Informatics." Higher Education Policy 2 (4): 73-76.
18. Sendov, B., and A. Eskenasy (1991). "Quality of Education with the Application of New Information Technologies." In: D. Bjørner and V. Kofov, eds. Images of Programming. Amsterdam: North-Holland, IFIP, 1.71-1.78.
19. Toffoly, T. (1989). "Position Statement for Panel 1: Frontiers in Computing." In: Information Processing '89. Proc. IFIP 11th World Computer Congress, San Francisco, Calif. Amsterdam: North-Holland, pp. 591-597.
Starting the discussion, I. Wesley-Tanaskovic noted that the initial assumptions of the Symposium were that the new information technologies would offer new modalities for cooperation in general, and especially for international cooperation, but this could be examined from two aspects: information technologies as an object (and objective) of cooperation, and as a tool for cooperation. The first aspect was the main concern of the papers presented in Session 5, while the information technologies used as tools for international cooperation, particularly those enhancing access to science and technology, were to be the central topic of the Panel 2 discussion.
Answering the question of G. Johannsen on "measures of effectiveness," A. Sage stressed that the "likelihood for success" when applying systems management in development of information technologies depends on a set of multi-attribute effectiveness facets, of which market share and profit, but also safety and environmental issues, are part.
There were two principal topics in the ensuing discussions: education for systems engineering, and transfer of technologies to the developing countries.
G. Johannsen remarked that while systems engineering is currently a major focus of industrial efforts, even in the most industrially developed countries, there is still little attention being paid to this subject at universities and technical colleges. A. Sage shared this view, explaining that it is simply easier to deal with the micro-level details associated with conventional engineering than with the broad scope of macro-level efforts that comprise systems engineering. He further commented that the increased emphasis now placed on global economics and the need for industry-government-university interaction will ameliorate this situation. Finally, he expressed the thought that systems engineering is fundamentally an information-based endeavour, and it is only now that the new information and other meta-level concerns are beginning to be incorporated in engineering education. J. Alty mentioned that some advances have been made recently, in Great Britain (the University of Loughborough) for instance, in cooperation with large manufacturers. All agreed that education for the "information era" in general may be claimed as the key to development in the future for all societies and nations. International cooperation is much needed for the delivery of new scientific and technological modalities that generate enhanced productivity for all, while information technology itself can potentially do much to support needed cooperative efforts.
The old controversy of "technology push" and "societal pull" in the development and transfer of technology was raised again by several speakers (M. Lundu, C. Correa, A. Sage, W. Rouse) during discussion of specific needs and conditions in the developing countries. D. Torrijos underlined that it is a fallacy to consider the so-called "developing countries" as completely blank when it comes to transfer of technologies. They have their culture, practices, and traditions, which do very strongly influence the success of the new technologies being introduced: this has been clearly shown in the past, especially in the case of failures.
Comments were made by M. Stone and D. Torrijos in relation to the programme of the UNU/IIST, advocating that it should find its place within the UNU and in collaboration with other relevant UN organizations. M. Almada de Ascencio stressed that the IIST should endeavour to assist the developing countries to create their own software facilities and industries, while D. Torrijos added that it should start by providing them with an "objective" assessment of the appropriateness of commercially available products. The answer of Zhou Chao Chen was that while the UNU/IIST plans to establish an electronic software product catalogue, it is realized that such an assessment is not easy and may be misleading. He further stated that the UNU/IIST will cooperate with Unesco and other organizations active in the field of information technology. In this cooperation, he said, the IIST could play the role of consultant/partner/trainer in software technology.
Responding to the relevant concerns expressed by some participants, I. Wesley-Tanaskovic stated that within the UNU, the IIST, INTECH, and all the projects of the Micro-electronics and Informatics Programme, including the Microprocessor Laboratory at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste, Italy, were cooperating closely. Their programmes are considered as being complementary within the framework of the UNU General Research and Training Programme.
Contents - Previous - Next