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Venezuela’s Infocentro wins UNESCO prize for facilitating adult computer literacy

January 12, 2011

Given the recent spate of coverage in the mainstream North American press, the average reader would think that Venezuela is a totalitarian state hell bent on depriving its citizens of access to the internet. (The NY Times, WSJ, and CNN are all in on the action.) While I do have some concern regarding recent changes to the Law of Social Responsibility in Television and Radio, I’m more concerned that the presentation of the case has been biased and thoroughly misconstrued by a corporate “free press” that so often fails its audience. So file this one under “news you’re not likely to see in the mainstream media”:

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has awarded a 2010 Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa Prize to Venezuela’s Infocentro Foundation (Fundación Infocentro) for its project “Technological Literacy for Older Adults.” The prize has been awarded annually, since 2005, to two “individuals, institutions, other entities or non-governmental organizations for excellent models, best practice, and creative use of information and communication technologies to enhance learning, teaching and overall educational performance.” The theme of the 201o prize was “Digital Literacy: Preparing Adult Learners for Lifelong Learning and Flexible Employment”. The United Kingdom’s National Institute of Continuing Adult Education was the other recipient. The winners were selected from among 49 candidates, nominated by 34 countries and one inter-governmental organization, the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO).

The Infocenter Foundation was created in 2007, under the auspices of the Ministry of Popular Power for Science and Technology, in order to assume control over and reinvigorate Venezuela’s Infocentro initiative, which itself had begun in 2000 with the establishment of a community technology center (known as an infocenter [infocentro]) in the Parque del Este neighborhood of Caracas. An infocenter is a site that makes information and communication technologies (ICTs), primarily internet-connected computer terminals, available to the general population at little or no cost. Infocenters also provide instruction in how to utilize such technologies. 239 infocenters were created in 2001 and over 700 exist across Venezuela today.

The Infocenter Foundation is tasked with “providing physical infrastructure (infocenters, mobile infocenters [infomóviles], and infokiosks [infopuntos]), technological infrastructure (computers and other devices, connectivity, and software applications), human capital (foundation staff, coordinators, supervisors and facilitators of the social network), [and] networks that coordinate the operation [que articulan el engranaje] of the foundation and the community for socio-technological education.” The goal is to facilitate:

… the appropriation of information and communication technologies by the popular sectors, via the consolidation of community technological spaces that facilitate collective construction and transfer of knowledge, collaboration and coordination, [and] creation of networks and popular communication, in order to convert this technological platform into a tool for the solution of problems and the transformation of reality.

… el proceso de apropiación de las tecnologías de información y comunicación por parte de los sectores populares, mediante la consolidación de espacios tecnológicos comunitarios que faciliten la construcción colectiva y transferencia de saberes y conocimiento, las relaciones de colaboración y de coordinación, la generación de redes y la  comunicación popular, para hacer de esta plataforma tecnológica una herramienta para la solución de problemas y de transformación de la realidad.

According to the Venezuelan government, citizens paid 10,971,345 visits to Infocenters in 2010. Also, in February, the project entered a new stage, the goal of which has been to transfer the management of the Infocenters to organized communities, presumably via the mechanism of communal councils. Of course, given that the vast majority of US citizens have no idea that such a radical experiment in participatory democracy is even underway, it would be sheer folly to expect any analysis of its progress from a market-oriented press establishment. UNESCO’s Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa Prize might spur the requisite curiosity, perhaps even a broader sharing of ideas directed at overcoming the ever-persistent digital divide, but that would require making the knowledge available in English. Although the Venezuelan News Agency (Agencia Venezolana de Noticias / AVN) has published at least two articles in English (as did the Venezuelan Embassy in the US, after the winners were made public in early December), as of this writing a Google News search for articles containing the words Venezuela, UNESCO, and Infocenter returned precisely zero results.

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