22 AUGUST 2001


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Creating new leaders for E-culture

EXTRACTS FROM A KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY EDUCATION MINISTER LOUIS GALEA AT THE CONFERENCE ORGANISED BY THE INTERNATIONAL TELECOMMUNICATIONS UNION IN COLLABORATION WITH THE UK TELECOMMUNICATIONS ACADEMY AND CABLE & WIRELESS IN COVENTRY ON 20 AUGUST, 2001.

The sad fact is that the majority of the six billion people who inhabit our planet have been completely shut out of the digital revolution and the promises that it holds.

Access to the Internet at home was one of the principal indicators used to measure the extent of the digital divide and the statistics were shocking: 90% of the C and D sectors in European society risked becoming have-nots through their lack of easy access to the information super-highway. How can telecommunications be used to usher in e-Culture, especially in those areas where the most basic of e’s – electricity - is still missing?

This conference on Universal Community Service followed the ITU World Telecommunication Development Conference also held in Malta during 1998, which produced the so-called Valletta Action Plan. It is interesting to note that four of the six points of the Valletta Action Plan were subsequently adopted by the G8 during the Okinawa summit when these world leaders drew up a charter on the global information society.

I would like at this stage to suggest five characteristics of a healthy e-society.

1. Universal Access to e-Tools – The first challenge is that of providing affordable access at the level of the local community. In this context a response that may perhaps be considered by the e-developed countries is to make satellite-based bandwith sharing possible.

2. Universal Access to Quality Content – The next step is to ensure that financial means and vested interests do not deprive the e-citizen of quality content. This is where the fundamental principles of Public Service Broadcasting come into play.

3. Freedom of Information – The e-Culture offers the opportunity to give access at greatly reduced cost, thus removing one of the traditional barriers to transparency in government.

4. Privacy and Data Protection - One of the threats posed by e-Culture is that to the private life of the individual. The principles of the 1980 OECD Guidelines, the 1981 European Data Protection Convention and the EU Directive 46/95 also need to be transposed to the legal systems of the e-deprived lest they catch up on the technology but not on the legal safeguards.

5. Respect for Intellectual Property Rights – None of the above can progress properly unless there exists a healthy respect for intellectual property rights across the board in all countries.

As a Minister responsible for education I cannot but start with the e-Learning area. In Malta we believe we are addressing the various issues involved within the framework of a comprehensive review of our education system and institutions at all levels. We are convinced that we can only and truly bridge the digital divide by going back to basics – ensure that absolutely no child lacks the basic literacy, numeracy and ICT skills by the time one ends Primary School. The five year – 2000-2005 – Strategic Plan which my Government adopted to implement the new National Curriculum entitled Creating the Future Together is premised on the recognition that the world of the new millennium is characterised by continuous and rapid change evolving our society into a humane intelligent society.

Malta has been cognisant of the dynamic revolution generated by information technology in improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the health sector and the empowerment of the citizens to better their health through such technology. Our strategy is to establish a national telematics infrastructure that allows exchange of health information amongst primary and secondary health care providers.

Our vision for the future is clear – Malta must become an information economy. In undertaking this transition, we are insisting that Malta must adopt a macro driven approach as against a piecemeal approach. In this regard Government has established four fundamental principles which need to be in place to attain this goal.

The first is the introduction of a legislative framework that balances trust, privacy, and security on the one hand, and personalisation of electronic services on the other.

The second fundamental principle is that of ensuring that Malta has a predictable and stable regulatory framework that will enable the growth of e-Commerce.

The third fundamental principle, which underpins Government's Strategy for the new economy, is the liberalisation of the telecommunications sector.

The fourth, and final, principle is that the attainment of the information economy is dependent, ultimately, on Malta becoming an information society.

"After e-Commerce and e-Business the next Internet revolution will be e-Government" stated The Economist in its issue of the 24th June 2001. More than a year ago, my colleague Minister Austin Gatt, Minister for Justice and Local Government, entrusted with spearheading e-Culture and e-Governance in Malta, devised an e-Government vision and strategy document. The truth of the matter is that e-Society brings with it a new milieu of values, culture, behaviour, work patterns and organisational designs – with interactions within organisations and external to them changing beyond recognition. The real challenge is whether we are ready to change the way we do things.

 



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