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Speech by the President of the Republic of Lithuania Valdas Adamkus at the Annual Meeting of UNESCO Goodwill Ambassadors

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

The founding fathers of UNESCO witnessing the tragedy of World War II created an organization that acted as a moral voice of the world's nations. I believe that, in the face of today's global crisis, this role of UNESCO has acquired a crucial significance.

 

Unfortunately, today we see the tendency that UNESCO's areas of competence - education, science, culture, and communication - are severely impacted by the global crisis.

 

Even more, if we look deeper, we will find that it is not that the governments have to reduce budgets for education, science, culture, and communication because of the crisis, but rather that the crisis was caused, to a large extent, by the reduction of allocations in those areas.

 

We have to admit that cutbacks had begun long before the crisis. The total aid commitments to basic education declined from 5.5 billion US dollars in 2006 to 4.3 billion in 2007, representing a decrease of nearly 22 percent.

 

As a result, the world will fall short of the goals agreed by the international community in Dakar in 2000. The target of universal primary education will be missed by at least 30 million children.

 

An estimated 11 billion US dollars is needed annually to reach key education goals in the world's poorest countries, but the actual aid to these countries has hardly reached a quarter of that amount.

 

And we still spend considerably more of our recourses on weapons than on education. In 2008 the world spent more than 1.2 trillion US dollars on arms.

 

It means that three days of the world's military budget would be enough to solve its education problems.

 

Your appeal, Mr. Director-General, to the leaders of 20 nations meeting in London to support the cause of education was very appropriate and timely, as was your warning that cutting investments in poverty reduction now is the best way to cause social disaster.

 

Illiteracy and lack of knowledge is pushing us towards radicalism, stereotypical thinking and even terrorism, which finds support among the uneducated members of the human community.

 

Today's modern information and communication technologies give us unprecedented opportunities for access to education for all. For instance, several hundred freedom-loving students from Belarus are studying online at the European Humanities University, which was forced to move from Minsk to Lithuania.

 

Whether humanity as a whole is to benefit from the opportunities new technologies provide will depend not only on technology, but first and foremost on enhancing human capability to make the best possible use of information technologies.

 

Therefore education, particularly lifelong education, takes on a very special meaning in modern society. Learning is one of the basic human rights.

 

Unmet learning needs can no longer be seen as isolated phenomena within the boundaries of particular countries or distinct parts of the world, because the emerging knowledge society will inevitably be a global society.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

The development of Knowledge Society in my country is one of the Government's priorities.

 

Firstly, public private partnerships in such areas as school computerization, internet access and adult education have proved to be extremely effective on the way to a knowledge society. One of such projects entitled "Window to the Future" provided e-literacy courses for three hundred thousand (300 000) residents of Lithuania - which is about ten percent of Lithuania's total population. I believe that similar models and initiatives could be introduced in the developing countries as well.

 

Secondly, another project, financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and implemented by the Ministry of Culture of Lithuania, is providing free access to computers and the Internet in public libraries - with a special focus made on the libraries in small towns and villages. This has helped to involve different social groups, especially older people, in communication for a better life quality.

 

Internet penetration is growing quickly in Lithuania. According to this year's data, nearly 52 percent of Lithuanian population are Internet users; the same index stands at almost 90 percent among young people. The people of Lithuania are highly receptive to technologies and increasingly confident of using IT tools. Lithuania has one of the highest mobile phone penetration rates in the world at around 150 percent.

 

Excellencies,

 

The knowledge society is among the most ambitious and promising projects promoted by UNESCO. Today we see not only the growing usage of modern technology, but also growing trust and confidence in technological solutions in various aspects of human activity. At the same time, we have to be very responsible and careful about preserving public confidence in modern technologies in the face of growing misuse of IT globally. Still, seeing the good practice and experience of my country, I would like to put forward several proposals which would help develop the knowledge society worldwide:

 

- Firstly, we must work to diminish the still existing digital divide between the developing and the developed countries.
- Secondly, we must push harder towards open access to information and unrestricted exchange of knowledge in all countries of the world.
- Thirdly, we have to engage, to a maximum extent possible, the private sector in the creation of knowledge society, particularly through efficient development of technologies.
- Fourth, specific technological solutions, such as the development of free and open source software and the use of IT tools in distance education, should emerge as the main generator of knowledge society.

 

Mr. Director-General,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

Education and knowledge have allowed mankind to alleviate the crises and go on with industrial and technological progress, teaching humanity to be more responsible for its activities and their impact on the environment, to better understand intercultural differences and to walk down the path of political dialogue and international cooperation, staying away from stereotypical clichés.

 

Science and education are continuously reshaping the world, humanity and everything around it. Modern technologies allow us to make these changes universal and quicker. And I commend UNESCO for its commitment to address these issues and merge global education targets with the capacities and development of modern technologies.

 

Thank you very much.

 

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