Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure and honour for me to participate in the 10th APEC Conference on Cooperation in Higher Education.
Since early 2020, we have witnessed unprecedented disruptions to economic activities and education caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Countries across our region are using new technologies to contain the global pandemic and mitigate its impact. Governments and experts work together to identify ways to innovate further and build back better after COVID-19.
However, with nearly 52 per cent of the region’s 4.3 billion people offline and denied access to such innovations, there are fears that the “digital divide” could exacerbate inequalities and leave societies more vulnerable.
A case in point is the lost access to high-speed Internet and the corresponding opportunities for millions of migrants across the Asia-Pacific region who had to return to their homes – mostly in rural areas -- due to the lockdown in cities and the closure of businesses. Their children, who had high-speed connectivity and could take online classes while in cities, could not access remote learning in villages due to poor connectivity.
Addressing this situation requires a two-pronged approach. More investments are needed in the fibre optic infrastructure that transports data, and digital literacy and skills should be nurtured to create a demand for the services.
To bridge the digital divide and accelerate digital transformation by promoting digital connectivity, ESCAP has worked with member States to develop the Action Plan for Implementation of the Asia Pacific Information Superhighway from 2022 to 2026 (called AP-IS action plan 2022-2026). This AP-IS action plan will serve as a blueprint for regional cooperative actions that promote digital connectivity and digital transformation as underlying foundations for regional economic connectivity and an inclusive and resilient digital economy.
In this connection, the draft AP-IS action plan 2022-2026 identified capacity building and digital education services, including the development of digital learning tools, as one of the key essential actions to strengthen digital connectivity and digital transformation towards an inclusive and resilient digital economy. In addition, digital education services make it easier than ever before to develop cooperation and joint programmes, bringing together perspectives and expertise from around the world to students. Importantly, high-quality free content on many advanced topics is being made available online, which educators can leverage to ensure their courses are timely and relevant.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, many of the capacity-building workshops previously organized by the UN behind closed doors for a small number of people are now open for online registration or even live-streamed. The workshops have also been turned into e-learning courses that can be integrated into advanced curriculums. For example, ESCAP has developed several free and self-paced e-learning courses in trade facilitation and trade policy for sustainable development, including testing material and certificates issued to those who successfully pass the courses. Many of these courses benefited from inputs from our Asia-Pacific Research and Training Network on Trade (ARTNeT), a community of knowledge supported by ESCAP, which brings together think tanks and higher education institutions from over 50 countries in our region. I encourage you to examine how you can take advantage of these digital products developed by ESCAP and the wider UN system.
In the time of rapid digitalization that we currently face, we should be aware that students with poor digital skills and those without the necessary equipment or internet access may not benefit from distance learning solutions and digital transformation.
In this regard, I would like to call for stronger collaboration to ensure inclusive and quality education, with special attention to close the digital divide while applying technology to the educational process.
Building on the existing partnership, I look forward to strengthening our cooperation.
I wish you all fruitful exchanges and a successful conference.
Thank you very much