Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to the Global Forum on ICT and Innovation for Education
Monterrey, Mexico, 3 September 2009

Mr. Chairman, Excellencies, Distinguished Participants,

I wish to thank the Government and people of Mexico, and of the State of Nuevo León, for their generous hospitality and support in hosting this meeting.

We are also grateful to our host, Indigo Brainmedia, and its CEO Mr. Ramón Garza, who is Co-Chair of the Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UNDESA-GAID). Indigo Brainmedia has shown how new multimedia technologies can open new vistas of knowledge and opportunities for all.

The Global Alliance, launched by the Secretary-General in 2006, promotes the use of ICT for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals – by bringing together all stakeholders on an open and inclusive platform for dialogue and collaborative partnerships, in order to trigger concrete actions in support of the MDGs.

With some six years remaining before 2015, the latest MDG Report shows that progress so far has been mixed. Some goals are on target. For instance, enrolment in primary education has risen from 83 per cent in 2000 to 88 percent in 2007. Child mortality is decreasing steadily. High growth rates achieved by the least developed countries in recent years had raised hopes for significant reductions in poverty in these countries. However, the current global downturn risks reversing some of the positive trends. It is estimated that 55 to 90 million more people will fall below the poverty line.

Technology and innovation are keys to accelerating progress towards the MDGs, particularly in countries that are falling behind. Their applications in the field of education have been demonstrated to have special relevance. Education is the foundation of a modern and thriving economy. It empowers poor and marginalized communities and enables them to contribute to economic and social development.

Yet, many developing countries do not have the means to build schools, train teachers and create systems of higher education on a scale that meets the enormous needs of their people. Government funding is often insufficient and not sustained. Many families cannot afford to send their young children to school. Quality teachers and adequate infrastructure can also be very limited and classrooms overcrowded.

ICT and innovation can open up new opportunities for both expanding the reach and improving the quality of education in developing regions, by providing practical and enabling solutions to current problems and obstacles.

The advent of universally accessible information and knowledge, the rapid development of next generation networks and multi-lingual software, low-cost hardware, new mobile platforms and other innovative channels of communication – all present a real opportunity to developing countries to employ ICT to lift the quality of education and make it universally accessible. I saw some interesting applications in the iMarketSpace, just outside this room. The Talking Book, for example, uses a low-cost audio device to provide affordable access to literacy learning tools and relevant locally created knowledge in regions with the least infrastructure.

The principal obstacles to putting ICT to use in schools and college are the high cost of connectivity and computers as well as the lack of qualified teachers and trainers. Yet, falling costs of ICT are making the use of ICT for education more economic. Already, affordable devices and falling rates have led to the rapid spread of mobile telephony in Africa and the least developed countries.

If governments pursue pro-competition policies, and the private sector plays its part by investing for longer-term returns, this experience could be replicated to achieve widespread broadband access to the internet. The key is affordable connectivity, low-cost computing devices and applications that can be used for education and other services. Training of trainers and teachers should go hand in hand with advances in access and connectivity.

The United Nations is working towards a more holistic approach to advance the global development agenda. Progress on the different development goals must go together. A well fed child is better able to learn the skills she or he needs to improve the standard of living. Proper education goes a long way to improve hygiene and prevent many diseases. The message of the Economic and Social Council, which focused this year on public health, was clear: if countries want to improve their educational and health systems, they need to employ and integrate ICT in their policies and programs. To this end, countries need to address the critical task of defining the policy framework for an integrated response to the many challenges they face.

I am confident that this Forum will generate fresh ideas and new momentum towards helping countries to make widespread and effective use of ICT and innovation for opening educational opportunities to all – in a way that also advances the broader development agenda.

My Department, DESA, looks forward to your deliberations and to working closely with you to make our effort a truly global one, with clear and tangible results.

I urge all of you to make full use of the Global Alliance platform to form partnerships and build networks for action. The United Nations is ready to support you in your endeavours and looks forward to our successful collaboration.

Thank you.