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E-society266

Evaluating the Processes of the Information Society in the Context of Globalisation

Globalisation is a suggestive word. It is often used in various ways to describe a phenomenon of a worldwide nature. The term relates to the process of national economies which are becoming integrated into the global economy. This is a measure of internationalisation. It appears through global production networks and the organised marketing of transnational companies. We must not forget, however, that globalisation is still not part of all national economies which are seeking to achieve an identical level. Third World countries in particular are lagging behind the dominant triad of the United States, Europe and Japan.


Saul Gudauskait, Head of Information and EU Issues Division, Information Society Development Committee, Lithuania

GLOBALISATION AND COMPETENCE

If we look at the subject philosophically, we can say that globalisation is a theatrical play.  Were all actors, and we must fight for our place under the sun.
Competence, in turn, is the ability to handle complex demands successfully or to carry out a complex activity or task.  If we think about core competencies as an objective, then we must automatically think about the knowledge society with the influence of globalisation as a new entity, about the emergence of liberal markets and democratic processes, about the impacts of social openness and expanded socio-cultural development, and about the issue of human resources.  The functional approach places complex demands which are faced by individuals at the forefront of the concept.  The idea of competence, then, refers to the necessary or desirable requirements for fulfilling the demands of a social role, a personal project or a particular professional position.
One of the main objectives of a modern country is to have a government which works better and costs less, one which is focused on and directed toward the countrys residents and their needs and well-being.
Lithuania, in recent years, has experienced rapid development of the information and knowledge society.  Internet and computer use has risen, the availability of information technologies for households has been on the rise, and there has been far greater penetration of information and communications technologies, in business, education, health care, etc.  The development of the knowledge economy has involved the rapid development of E-banking.  In telecommunications, we have seen the skyrocketing development of mobile communications.
Regardless of how key competences are identified, ethical choices and value judgements are usually an integral part of the relevant process.  The problem lies in defining and selecting key competences, because this has to do with power relations, political decisions, national cultures and practical considerations.  The structuring, assessment and development of competences, thus, are all influenced by the socio-cultural context in which an individual lives.  Here we can address the issue of digital competences, which must be linked on a conceptual basis to desired outcomes such as successful lives or well-functioning societies.

CRTIERIA FOR STRATEGIES

The technological point of view is the key factor of evaluation if we consider common criteria for evaluating the relevant strategies.
Lithuanias strategy for developing the Information Society was approved by the government in June 2005.  It speaks to ways in which the main objectives could be implemented and how results could be evaluated.  As can be seen in Table 1, there has been significant growth in many of the relevant indicators.

Table 1.  Indicators related to Information Society development (%)

2004

2005

2006

Households equipped with computers

25.0

29.0

36.5

Households with Internet access

10.6

14.4

31.7

Computers per 100 schoolchildren in general schools

4.0

4.6

5.1

Schools with high speed Internet access (more than 64 Kb/s)

52.0

76.0

85.0

Public services available on the Internet

50.0

64.0

68.7

Businesses using computers

89.7

91.7

91.7

Businesses using the Internet

79.8

85.2

87.5

Companies buying things via the Internet

12.9

14.6

21.5

Companies selling things via the Internet

4.8

5.8

14.5

ICT USE

As can be seen in Table 1, computer and Internet use has increased substantially in Lithuania.  Statistics show that the number of households with a PC increased by 15% between 2004 and 2006, while the number of households with Internet access rose by 27%.  In the first quarter of 2007, 42% of households had PCs, and 40% of these also had Internet access.
Surveys also show that 49% of people aged 16 to 74 used the Internet during Q1 2007 (as opposed to 42% in 2006).
The Internet is used most often to seek information, read online versions of newspapers or magazines, and download games, pictures and recordings of music.  Of all users, 79% use E-mail services, 65% read or download newspapers or magazines, 75% seek information about goods or services, and 55% play or download games, pictures, recordings of music and films.
In the first quarter of 2007, 39% of Internet users made calls or conducted video conferences via the Internet, while one year earlier it was just 27% of them who did so.  75% and 70% respectively used the Net to seek out information about goods and services, 43% and 35% used online banking services, and 38% and 30% respectively used the E-services provided by the national authorities.
Lithuania has also been catching up the EU average when it comes to ICT use.  In 2004, 38% of the residents of the EU were frequent Internet users, and that number increased by 9% in 2006.  In Lithuania, the increase during the same period was by 12% - from 26% in 2004 to 38% in 2006.
There has been an even greater increase in the percentage of households which have Internet access at home just 12% in 2004, 35% in 2006, and 40.3% in the first quarter of 2007.  During the same period, the average in all EU member states increased from 42% to 51%.
The use of modern technologies largely depends on age, income levels, place of residence, etc.  For instance, the use of computers, mobile phones and the Internet is directly dependent on household income.  Data from Q1 2007 show that 86% of high-income households (more than LTL 2,000 or EUR 580 per month) had a PC at home.  82% of such households also had Internet access.  In the lowest income group (less than LTL 500 per month), only 5.6% of households owned a computer, and 6% had Internet access.
Another determinant factor is age.  Computer and Internet users tend to be younger people.  In Q1 2007, 91.1% of people younger than 25 used computers, and 89.8% used the Internet.  The figures in the 25-34 cohort were 70.9% and 67%, while among those aged 65 and up, only 4.5% used a computer, and 3.7% used the Internet.
When it comes to employment status, fully 99% of schoolchildren and university students reported Internet use in the first quarter of 2007, as did 58% of Lithuanias employed people.
Then there is the gap between cities and the countryside.  53% of all households in Lithuania had a computer in the first quarter of 2007, but that was true of 59% of cities, 43% in smaller towns, and only 24% in villages.  Home Internet access was enjoyed by 50.4% of urban, but only 22.6% of rural residents.  A TNS Gallup poll conducted in 2006 found that the highest percentage of computer usage is found in the Klaipeda District (53.4%), while the lowest percentage was found in the Teliai District (35.8%).
When people who dont use the Internet at home are asked why, 66.4% say that they dont need it, 22.7% complain that the equipment is expensive, and 16.9% say the same about access to the Internet.  Steps need to be taken to promote the acquisition of ICT.  As readers of this journal will know, the government approved rules in 2004 which allow people to deduct the cost of one computer and one Internet connection every three years from their income taxes.  The law was extended to be in place until 2009 a few years later.  The Finance Ministry says that more than 40,000 people took advantage of this opportunity is 2005, 89,000 did so in 2006, and so far in 2007, 120,000 have followed suit.


A network of public Internet access facilities has been expanded actively in Lithuania to help people to learn about and then use computers and the Internet.  This is a public-private partnership kind of thing.  A private business initiative called Window to the Future has been in place since 2002 in this regard, and the Interior Ministry pitched in with its own assistance a bit later.  All told, 175 public Internet access facilities were created in this partnership.  In 2005, another 300 facilities were opened up thanks to the PHARE programme, which particularly financed the opening of Internet access facilities in the countryside.  These are found at public locations such as libraries, cultural centres, community centres, etc.  The goal is to ensure that no one in Lithuania is more than 10 kilometres away from a public Internet access facility.
There are instructors at all access facilities to help people to learn about computers and the Internet and to provide consultations on E-government services.  These men and women supervise the use of computers and software at the facilities, and they put together training courses specifically for rural residents.  These are based on E-learning modules that were created, again with financing from the PHARE programme, in the year 2000.  New programmes are also being developed.
The EUs Regional Development Fund has approved funding for another 400 public Internet access facilities.  All told, there are now some 700 places in Lithuania where free Internet access is available.

TRAINING

In 2004, the Lithuanian government set up what is known as the Universal Computer Literacy Programme, and it also approved official standards, requirements and recommendations as to the computer literacy of the countrys population.  Certification of computer literacy has been conducted through the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) programme.
The ability of people to use ICT is a key element in the Information Society.  The Lithuanian Ministry for Education and Science reports that in 2006, only 0.7% of Lithuanians had ECDL certification, but a far larger percentage of the population claimed a good (49.92%) or limited (34.48%) level of computer literacy.  Only 15% admitted to no computer skills at all.  Here, again, the area of residence was important rural people were much less likely to state that they had a high level of computer skills.  Older people were far less likely to do so than younger people.  If this digital gap is to be closed, there is going to have to be a focus on these issues.
Another aspect in all of this is computerisation of schools.  Lithuanias aim is to make sure that every elementary school graduate will have necessary ICT-related skills.  Training tools have been developed for the school system.  The relevant programme, which is overseen by the Education Ministry, is using modern ICT to create a computer network in the education system and to help in the upgrading of educational administration.  More than LTL 36 million were allocated for the computerisation of the education system in 2006, and LTL 20 million of that money came from the EU.
In the 2006/2007 school year, the level of computer availability at Lithuanian schools was around 6.5 machines per 100 students.  The figures in other parts of the system were 7.6 per 100 in colleges, and 8.7 per 100 students in vocational and training institutions.  General education schools had a total of 36,000 computers, vocational and training institutions had more than 5,000, colleges had more than 6,000, and there were 16,000 computers at the countrys universities.
There were further developments in 2006 of the National E-Learning System, the Lithuanian Science and Studies Information System, and the Lithuanian E-Learning Network.  There was also much focus on helping differently abled people to use ICT.  A national programme on the social integration of such people was approved by the government in 2002, and software has since been developed to test and promote computer literacy and the use of public E-services among differently abled people.  This software is available free of charge at the Website of the Information Society Development Committee.

INVESTMENT NEEDS

Development of the Information Society is one area in which European Union Structural Funds can be used.  More than LTL 217 million were spent on related projects between 2004 and 2006, and the European Regional Development Fund contributed LTL 158.9 million of that sum.  There are 42 projects which are being implemented at this time, with total anticipated funding of LTL 258 million.  Approximately 30% of the money has been spent already, and it is expected that all of the projects will be completed by September 2008.
National investments in pursuit of the Information and Knowledge Society have increased from LTL 81 million in 2001 to LTL 100 million in 2002 (LTL 9.8 million from the EU), LTL 114.1 million (46.6 million) in 2003, LTL 182.4 million (LTL 61.7 million) in 2004, LTL 201.2 million (LTL 63.7 million) in 2005, and LTL 155.3 million (LTL 30.7 million) in 2006.
In 2006, the lions share of national investments (excluding EU monies) went toward application software (36%) and standard computer hardware and software (32%).  Less was spent on servers (16%), telecoms networks and equipment (13%), and office equipment (3%).
According to a report from the World Economy Forum, Lithuania was in 39th place among 122 countries in terms of information technologies in 2006 (44th of 115 countries one year earlier).  Lithuania is in second place in mobile telephone penetration, lagging only behind Luxembourg.  In terms of opportunities for people to use ICT, Lithuania ranked 33rd among 181 countries.  In the Digital Access Index, Lithuania is on a par with Ireland and Portugal in the European Union, ranking 3rd after Estonia and Slovenia.
Innovation is a proven driving force behind economic growth, productivity, job creation and higher standards of living.  It is expected that there will be further ICT developments in Lithuania, partly financed by the EUs Structural Funds.  There will be special focus on the electronic infrastructure, E-content and public E-services so as to increase the percentage of Lithuanians who use ICT, to reduce the width of the digital gap, and to promote economic development on the basis of state-of-the-art technologies.

Authors contacts: s.gudauskaite(at)ivpk.lt


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eBaltics
21.11.2019


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