Information and communication technologies have become a significant factor in development, having a profound impact on the political, economic and social sectors of many countries.
ICTs can be differentiated from more traditional communication means such as telephone, TV, and radio and are used for the creation, storage, use and exchange of information. ICTs play an important role in enhancing dialogue and understanding amongst youth and between generations.
The proliferation of information and communication technologies presents both opportunities and challenges in terms of the social development and inclusion of youth.
There is an increasing emphasis on using information and communication technologies in the context of global youth priorities, such as access to education, employment and poverty eradication. In addition, ICTs can create effective channels of cooperation, dialogue and information exchange among young people.
As a result, the role of young people in the information society is an important one. Young people are potential beneficiaries of increased access to ICT, in particular through improvements in education and social development.
Moreover, they may also play an important role in the development on the information society, through their ability to learn to use and develop ICT and its applications.
The benefits that ICTs can bring to young people have been widely acknowledged. In a broad sense, the benefits arise from improvements in education and access to information. At the individual level, ICT may assist young people to gain more meaningful jobs, to communicate easily with other youth from all over the world, and thus share their experiences.
While access to technology and associated electronic content has significantly changed the lives of many young people in developed countries, this is not always the case for those in less developed countries. Access to ICTs such as computers, mobile phones and the internet, especially broadband, remains a challenge for youth in the developing world.
In addition, the cost of ICT access (mobile phones and internet) is much higher as a proportion of per capita income in these particularly disadvantaged countries. The challenge is bringing together all relevant stakeholders, including governments, civil society and the private sector, and encouraging them to work together to provide an environment that fosters the development of young people and enables them to realize their potential in the information society. It is important that the international cooperation in regards to the transfer of technology is fostered. The United Nations recognises young people as avid and creative users of ICTs, and as key contributors to building an inclusive information society and bringing the digital divide. In particular targeting girls and young women by promoting better and more inclusive access to ICT so as to promote their academic, social and economic development is crucial to not only bridging this digital divide but also in helping close the gender gap. In this sense, promoting universal, non-discriminatory, equitable and affordable access of youth to ICT is central to ensuring digital and social inclusion. Disadvantaged and marginalised youth, such as migrant and refugee youth, youth with HIV and AIDS, indigenous youth, youth with disabilities, rural youth, youth experiencing poverty, and those facing discrimination, are often excluded from access to ICTs. The effective allocation of resources so as to ensure equal opportunities and access to ICTs for youth living in vulnerable situations is critical to ensuring that ICTs are used and developed in an inclusive and equitable manner. The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva (2003) and Tunis (2005) produced goals with respect to the development and expansion of access to ICT globally. In particular, high priority was given to the role that ICT could play in relation to young peoples’ education. The World Programme of Action for Youth (WPAY) also highlights the importance of improving access to the internet and increasing information technology literacy at large, WPAY recognises that effective use of ICT should strengthen youth engagement. Also, WPAY suggests a three-pronged approach to support youth in their use of information and communication technologies. This aims at the adequate provision of media for young people, encourage participation by young people in the production of media and in the formation of media policy, and promotes education that emphasizes information and communication technology literacy as a significant dimension of contemporary citizenship.
Attention to young people and their ICT needs is also an essential component of the work of the United Nations Agency dealing with ICT matters, the International Telecommunication Unit (ITU). Amongst its work is digital inclusion activities, the main goal of which is to promote broadband school connectivity through its connect a school, connect a community initiative. The expansion of electronic and digital infrastructure has given many millions of young people the potential to learn, publish and communicate on an unprecedented scale. The way forward, ICT has a major role to play in educational facilities at every level.
Developing economies that recognise that ICT is a tool for development, and adopt appropriate policies to encourage its wider use, will be poised to take advantage of their youth asset. Many other advances, such as the transformation of business and government processes, are reliant on a higher level of ICT infrastructure, including broadband access.