Knowledge divide

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The knowledge divide is the gap in standards of living between those who can find, create, manage, process, and disseminate information or knowledge, and those who are impaired in this process. According to a 2005 UNESCO World Report, the rise in the 21st century of a global information society has resulted in the emergence of knowledge as a valuable resource, increasingly determining who has access to power and profit.[1] The rapid dissemination of information on a potentially global scale as a result of new information media[2] and the globally uneven ability to assimilate knowledge and information has resulted in potentially expanding gaps in knowledge between individuals and nations.[3]


In the 21st century, the emergence of the knowledge society becomes pervasive.[4] The transformations of world's economy and of each society have a fast pace. Together with information and communication technologies (ICT) these new paradigms have the power to reshape the global economy.[5] In order to keep pace with innovations, to come up with new ideas, people need to produce and manage knowledge. This is why knowledge has become essential for all societies.

Between nations[edit]

According to UNESCO and the World Bank,[6] knowledge gaps between nations may occur due to the varying degrees by which individual nations incorporate the following elements:

  • Human rights and fundamental freedoms: An absence of freedom within a society can diminish or delay the ability of its members to acquire, debate, and transmit knowledge. Vital to the spread of knowledge and information between nations are such freedoms as freedom of expression, an absence of censorship, free circulation of information, and freedom of the press.[7]
  • Democracy
  • Plurality of knowledge and information: This includes a diverse media[8] and the acceptance of diverse forms of knowledge.[9]
  • Quality infrastructure: For instance, a poor electrical grid makes the existence of computer networks or of higher education institutions less attainable.
  • Effective communication system: This will affect the dissemination of knowledge or movement of ideas within and between nations.[10]
  • Effective education system: Gaps in knowledge between nations can exist when individual countries invest too little in primary school education, which acts as the base for the entire education system.[11] According to UNESCO, in order for a nation to become a knowledge society, primary education must focus on basic literacy and must be universally accessible.[12] However, as others have pointed out, higher education may be equally important for closing knowledge gaps between nations, particularly between newly industrialized nations, such as the Republic of Korea, and more advanced industrial societies.[13] For the former, higher education can play an important role in bridging knowledge gaps, but must benefit more than a small elite portion of the population and must be taught at international standards.[14] The poor development of educational institutions from a society affects the creativity of people belonging to that society.
  • Focus on Research and Innovation: As the World Bank suggests, Research & Development within a nation can enable it to follow current developments in global knowledge and also to understand how to adapt external knowledge and technology to meet its needs.[15] In nations with low degrees of R&D, government funding can provide a significant portion of support that can later be taken over by private investment.[16] Closely tied to effective education systems is the need for a nation to allow for academic freedom.[17] Because higher educational institutions are significant contributors to R&D,[18] these institutions must be granted freedom to create and disseminate knowledge.[19] An environment supportive of research and innovation may also help stem the "brain drain" of educated individuals from knowledge-poor nations to knowledge-rich nations.[20]
  • Intellectual Property Rights: Closely connected to a focus on research and innovation are national and international Intellectual Property Rights. Within a nation, Intellectual Property Rights can spawn research and innovation by providing economic incentives for investing in new knowledge development.[21] However, as stated by the World Bank, by protecting innovations, intellectual property rights may also inhibit knowledge-sharing and may prevent developing nations from benefitting from knowledge produced in other countries.[22]

Digital divide[edit]

The information and ICT systems that support knowledge are very important. This is why digitization is viewed closely related to knowledge. Scientists generally agree that there is a digital divide, recently different reports also showed the existence of knowledge divide.[23]

The creation and effective use of knowledge are increasingly related to the development of an ICT infrastructure. Without ICT, it is impossible to have an infrastructure able to process the huge flow of information required in an advanced economy. In particular, without adequate technical support, it is difficult to develop and use e-learning and electronic documents to overcome time and space constraints.

The digital divide is, however, but one important part of the larger knowledge divide. As UNESCO states, "closing the digital divide will not suffice to close the knowledge divide, for access to useful, relevant knowledge is more than simply a matter of infrastructure—it depends on training, cognitive skills and regulatory frameworks geared towards access to contents."[24]


In the book Digital Dead End, Virginia Eubanks criticizes the way that the digital divide is generally thought of as a division between haves and have-nots, where the solution is distribution. This over simplistic depiction obscures the fact that often social and structural inequality is at the root of the divide. According to a study done by Eubanks with women of the YWCA, the women of the community "insisted that have-nots possess many different kinds of crucial information and skills." In other words, it is not simply knowledge of the technology itself that is the issue but the structural system based on perpetuating the status quo in which the haves "hoard" knowledge.[25]

In gender, race, ethnicity and social class[edit]

First, it was noticed that a great difference exists between the North and the South[where?] (rich countries vs. poor countries). The development of knowledge depends on spreading Internet and computer technology and also on the development of education in these countries. If a country has attained a higher literacy level then this will result in having higher level of knowledge. Indeed, UNESCO's report details many social issues in knowledge divide related to globalization. There was noticed a knowledge divide with respect to

  • Gender: Socio-cultural inequalities between men and women, such as unequal access to education and technology, create the conditions for unequal access to knowledge. This can cause significant knowledge gaps both within and between nations, the latter resulting from individual nations' underutilization of their full knowledge workforce.[26]
  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Social class

See also[edit]


  1. ^ UNESCO World Report: Toward Knowledge Societies (Paris: UNESCO, 2005), 158-159.
  2. ^ UNESCO 2005, 160.
  3. ^ Joseph Stiglitz, "Knowledge as a Global Public Good," in Global Public Goods: International Cooperation in the 21st Century, ed. I. Kahl et al. (Oxford University Press, 1999), 318.
  4. ^ UNESCO World Report (2005) Towards Knowledge Societies; retrieved from
  5. ^ Information Society Commission (2002). Building the Knowledge Society - Report to Government, December 2002 retrieved from
  6. ^ World Bank World Development Report: Knowledge for Development (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).
  7. ^ UNESCO 2005, 28.
  8. ^ UNESCO 2005, 28.
  9. ^ UNESCO 2005, 60.
  10. ^ Stiglitz, 317-318.
  11. ^ Stiglitz, 317.
  12. ^ UNESCO 2005, 72.
  13. ^ Stiglitz, 317.
  14. ^ Stiglitz, 317.
  15. ^ World Bank World Development Report, 1999, 36.
  16. ^ World Bank World Development Report, 1999, 36.
  17. ^ UNESCO 2005, 96.
  18. ^ World Bank World Development Report 1999, 36.
  19. ^ UNESCO 2005, 28.
  20. ^ UNESCO 2005, 160.
  21. ^ Stiglitz, 311.
  22. ^ World Bank World Development Report 1999, 34.
  23. ^ Information Society Commission, 2002; UNESCO, 2005
  24. ^ UNESCO 2005, 22.
  25. ^ Eubanks, V. (2011). Digital dead end: fighting for social justice in the information age. MIT Press.
  26. ^ UNESCO World Report 2005, 167-168.


  • Hakkarainen, K., & Palonen, T. (2003). Patterns of female and male students' participation in peer interaction in computer-supported learning. Computers & Education, 40, 327–342.([1])
  • Scardamalia, M. (2003). Crossing the digital divide: Literacy as by-product of knowledge building. Journal of Distance Education, 17 (Suppl. 3, Learning Technology Innovation in Canada), 78-81. ([2])
  • Scardamalia, M., & Bereiter, C. (2003). Knowledge building environments: Extending the limits of the possible in education and knowledge work. In A. DiStefano, K. E. Rudestam, & R. Silverman (Eds.), Encyclopedia of distributed learning (pp. 269–272). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. ([3])
  • The K-Village Project. ([4])

External links[edit]