As the COVID-19 pandemic has so vividly shown, access to information has the potential to save lives. This health crisis has underlined how media and information literacy can address surges in disinformation. It has highlighted the importance of making reliable information readily available in multiple languages, including indigenous languages. It has also underscored that immediate measures must be catered to those most in need, including persons with disabilities.
The Information for All Programme of UNESCO (IFAP) deals with all these issues. It aims to build inclusive knowledge societies, where technological progress and digital opportunities are part of everyone’s daily lives. These are the words of Mr. Xing Qu, Deputy Director-General of UNESCO, at the 32nd Meeting of the Bureau of the Intergovernmental Council for IFAP held virtually on 15 and 16 June 2021.
The IFAP Chair, Ms. Dorothy Gordon of Ghana, emphasized that the Programme can fast-track policy consensus and contribute towards health, education, justice and reducing inequalities. With a mandate that is today more important than ever, IFAP harnesses opportunities offered by technology to share experiences and lessons learned from high-level events, studies and capacity building initiatives that promote digital inclusion, are based on sound data, and contribute to progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.
It is in this context and under this driving motive that experts and Government representatives from 22 UNESCO Member States work together through IFAP. Belgium, Ghana, Jamaica, Malaysia, the Sultanate of Oman and the Russian Federation compose the Programme’s leadership – its Bureau. They jointly carry out the crucial mission of this unique Intergovernmental Programme of UNESCO, which has been assisting UNESCO Member States in building inclusive knowledge societies throughout its two decades of existence.
At its 32nd meeting, the IFAP Bureau assessed the positive impact of two projects funded and co-funded by the Programme between 2020 and 2021 in response to COVID-19.
In partnership with the UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education in Moscow, IFAP built capacities of teachers, educators and decision-makers in nine countries of eastern Europe and central Asia. The project aimed to facilitate online learning and impart media and information literacy skills to address misinformation and disinformation. IFAP was also part of the “UNESCO Caribbean Artificial Intelligence Initiative”, raising awareness of the challenges and opportunities of artificial intelligence in Caribbean Small Island Developing States. Offering training tailored to the Caribbean context, this project has helped pave the way for public policies that support the ethical use of ‘AI’.
As UNESCO is establishing cross-cutting strategic objectives to guide its actions over the next eight years, IFAP must act as an enabler for the Organization’s communication and information priorities, working in a transversal manner to contribute to UNESCO’s assistance to Member States in achieving the SDGs, underlined the IFAP Chair. And, to do so, IFAP is renewing its Strategic Plan for 2022 to 2025 in alignment with UNESCO’s Medium-Term Strategy. To better serve Member States’ needs and guided by the IFAP Bureau, IFAP Secretary Ms. Marielza Oliveira is strengthening and standardizing IFAP’s internal processes, increasing the Programme’s effectiveness, efficiency and outreach.
However, developing this plan is only one part of the process. To achieve these goals, IFAP also needs resources – including both greater visibility and resource mobilization. “We need more commitment, from more Member States – so that we can continue funding projects and activities like those that the IFAP Bureau considered at this meeting,” said UNESCO Deputy-Director-General Qu, calling on more UNESCO Member States to join in those who have actively contributed to the Programme’s success.
In November this year, UNESCO Member States will be electing up to 16 IFAP Council Members at the 41st General Conference of UNESCO. It is the IFAP Bureau’s hope to see a great number of Member States present candidatures and join IFAP because the success of this Intergovernmental Programme depends on this ongoing engagement – the ability of delegates and experts to encourage their Governments to build knowledge societies across the globe, based on access to information for all.