St. Kitts and Nevis pioneers the way across the OECS on ethics in an Internet age

MPW_0135 Internet WorshopOver 23-24 September, UNESCO was back in St. Kitts to sponsor a conference on the Ethical dimensions of the Information Society and Internet Privacy, designed to explore how almost instantaneous ICT access is impacting on youth behavior and the associated risks.

This major event, organized together with the Government of St. Kitts-Nevis in the framework of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Information for All Programme (IFAP), examined the current information ethics challenges and particularly those facing Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

High-level speakers drawn from St. Kitts-Nevis government ministers, The Queens Counsel, the Attorney-General, UNESCO, Harvard University, educationalists and others, were unanimous in supporting the use of Internet and other ICTs as means of enhancing the effectiveness of training, inter-generational dialogue and participation on the democratic process. However, they also warned of the risks associated with use of the Internet, notably cyber bullying, privacy violations and unwanted solicitation.

Hosted by the St. Kitts and Nevis National Commission for UNESCO, the conference focused on the balance needed between risks and opportunities in Internet usage via Smartphone, iPads, screening, etc, with particular reference to young people in a distinctly small island developing state context.

Some 200 attendees, comprising diplomatic corps, senior Government officials from the OECS and St. Maarten, civil society, the private sector as well as teachers and student representatives from high schools on both islands, heard interventions on emerging contemporary issues ranging from cyber bullying, identity theft, access to inappropriate online material, privacy, regulatory parameters, the role of schools and parents.

Government representatives from Grenade, Anguilla, BVI, Dominica, Antigua & Barbuda, St. Maarten, St. Lucia and St. Vincent & The Grenadines delivered their respective country reports on how the authorities, schools, religious leaders tackle the challenge of Internet mis-usage amongst youth, raising awareness, identifying and supporting responses to the ethical dimensions of the technology revolution. This first workshop session were chaired by Nevis-born, UNESCO policy expert on Information Society based in Paris, Paul Hector.

Hon. Shawn Richards, Deputy Prime Minister, and Minister of Education stated that “vulnerable groups such as our nation’s youth are particularly at risk and (…) I have pledged my support to ensure all appropriate initiatives be explored and, where possible, undertaken”.

He announced that the Ministry of Education would be creating an “Office of e-Safety as well as manage an online complaints system and administer e-Safety material to parents”.

Says Antonio Maynard, Secretary General of the St. Kitts and Nevis national commission for UNESCO, “the conference and associated workshops are intended to build on relevant regional and international frameworks and action plans, as well as explore and support efforts at the national level here in the OECS region”.  Ultimately, he said, the event will contribute to “raising awareness and support for the development of a holistic regional approach by OECS States to the complex issues around the Internet”.

Remarked Dr. David Doyle, Ambassador of St. Kitts and Nevis to UNESCO based in Paris, opened the conference by saying that “The proliferation of Internet use is now indelibly linked with the youth, their learning aspirations, their friendships, hobbies, games. IT is generating new patterns of expression, communication and empowerment.  It would be a profound understatement to say that Internet, via smart phones, iPads, is now an innovative force that is having a profound influence on children and youth. But governments, teachers, parents, in consultation with the youth, need to assess and address the risks to internet use in an intelligent and balanced manner.  This St. Kitts-Nevis/UNESCO conference is a timely stakeholder event aimed at contributing to the SIDS dimension of UNESCO’s work on ethical practices in information society and internet privacy.”

Dr Boyan Radoykov, from the UNESCO Knowledge Societies Division, in his capacity as official Representative of UNESCO, extended welcome remarks on behalf of the Organization and stressed that “(…) We have to strengthen even more our efforts in addressing the info-ethical dimensions and their social implications, and in promoting the basic values and principles that are to be further convincingly enshrined in the information society such as peace and democracy, free flow of information in the public domain, freedom of expression, tolerance, cultural and linguistic diversity, solidarity, etc.” He ended by emphasizing: “It is our role, it is our task, and it is our utmost responsibility to ensure the progress of civilization in cyberspace”.

Ms Sandra Cortesi, Director of Youth and Media at the Berkman center for Internet and Society at Harvard University (USA), underlined, “the importance of including youth voices and perspectives into the conversation” and “welcomed the participation of a contingent of youth representatives from high schools on St. Kitts and Nevis”.  She urged regulators, the teaching community and parents to reflect credulity on the measures envisaged to combat misuse of Internet by ….opportunities….

The event provided a number of strategic recommendations for shaping national and regional information and knowledge societies programmes and policies, thus enabling Caribbean SIDS to develop a range of proactive responses.

The intergovernmental Information for All Programme was established in 2001. It provides a platform for international policy discussions, cooperation and the development of guidelines for action in the area of access to information and knowledge. The Programme supports Member States to develop and implement national information policy and strategy frameworks.

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