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Digital bridge

The World Bank gathers leaders of Brazil, of China and India to debate the use of knowledge

Brazilians, Chinese and Indians huddled in England to debate the future of their countries in a world economic scenario that privileges knowledge and innovation. The meeting, promoted by the World bank Institute (Bird) in Winston House, in Wilton Park, England, a 16th century property belonging to the British government, was held between the 19th and the 25th of March, with the topic “The Use of Knowledge for Development”. The goal of the meeting was to debate with leaders of diverse sectors strategies so that, over the next few years, knowledge becomes a more effective tool towards the development and the overcoming of inequalities. “The capacity to generate and absorb knowledge is a determinant factor in development. For this reason, the articulation between the State, business and the university is essential.” said Dr. Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, President of FAPESP, who participated in the meeting under the status of a member of the Brazilian academic community.

In spite of the differences, both from the cultural and political points of view, the World Bank classifies the three countries as of medium income and development, using as set of indicators. These countries also have in common a number of structural deficiencies such as a low level of higher education, unsatisfactory investments in research, shortage of incentives towards innovative technology and few mechanisms for combating corruption. Also, they account for 45% of the planet’s population. In a scenario in which the Developed World accelerates innovative technology, these structural deficits could deepen the gap between the degree of development of various countries, bringing it to what the World Bank qualifies as a “digital divide”.

This was the third meeting of the program “Use of Knowledge for Development.” The first was in Finland bringing together representatives of the Baltic countries and of Poland in June 1999, and the second was in Singapore, with the participation of the leaders of Korea, Malaysia, Thailand and of Vietnam, in December of the same year. “The program began in 1998, shortly after the publication by the World Bank of their report about the management of knowledge.” relates Antonio Magalhães, main advisor of the Board of the World Bank in Brazil. Starting from the report’s information, the bank adopted a policy of support towards these countries with the intent of stimulating them to a more efficient use of knowledge for development. The Forum is one of the strategies of the program. It has as its goal calling the attention of its participants to the question of knowledge and arming them with methodologies that will permit the evaluation of the degree of preparation of their countries towards an economy based on knowledge. Another measure adopted by the program is to develop a policy of services that help the country-clients of the World Bank to create concrete strategies for the use of knowledge in the economy and in the other sectors of society.

In order that knowledge might turn itself into a tool for development, in the view the World Bank, it is necessary that the developing countries create a comprehensive high quality educational system, from primary education to post graduation, especially now when the technology process is more sophisticated and poor quality of education jeopardizes the workforce performance. For the bank, improving the quality and expanding the number of places in secondary education are strategic measures for any country, since it is at the university level that the leaders of the generation of knowledge are educated. Also, the percentage of young people at university, both in Brazil and in India and China, is still very low.

“Brazilian statistics place us in a more advanced position among the developing countries, but there is still a long way to go before we can consider ourselves completely comprehensive.” says Dr. Brito Cruz. Besides increasing the number of places, it is fundamental that a new system is implemented that will be consisted of universities with excellence in teaching and research as well as of colleges with shorter, more efficient courses to increase mass educational. In primary education, Brazil has already achieved great advances, attending to 96% of the population. However, in secondary education the percentage of school going is only a little above 30% of the population between 15 and 17 years of age. The proportion of illiterates in the age group of 15 years, though falling, still remained at 14.1% in 1996.

In the three countries, the role of the companies is still very small from the point of view of innovative technology. “In Brazil, for example, the university system tends to be stronger than the business sector.” states Dr. Brito Cruz. The companies still use few of the specialists educated through the universities. In Brazil, the total of the scientists working in companies is equivalent to less than 11% of the researchers in the country. “A national system of innovation must steer technological development so it will led by the companies.”

The debates in Winston House concluded that the State should perform a dominant role in a national system of innovation. It is up to the State to create an adequate atmosphere so that companies pay attention to innovative technology, It should, for example, design a policy of intellectual ownership. The presence of the State in the national life should also guarantee minimum levels of planning.

Besides the broadening and the improvement in education and the implantation of a national system of innovation, other aspects discussed by the representatives of the three countries was the capacity for spreading of information. “It is imperative that telecommunications and the Internet expand so that information can flow and be accessible to the greater part of the population.” detailed Dr. Brito Cruz.

As a matter of fact, on this question, Brazil is advanced. The Secretary of Logistics and Information Technology of the Planning Ministry, Dr. Solon Lemos Pinto, also present at the Forum, presented the programs Electronic Government and TeleCommunity, and surprised the participants at the meeting. The Electronic Government, in the phase of implementation, is going to connect the government to the citizens, permitting, for example, the following of auctions and bids, the public works construction and public purchases. Through the TeleCommunity, the Federal government will install computer terminals with access to the Internet in schools, hospitals and in all of the communities with less than one hundred inhabitants. The program will be financed from a fund made up by taxes paid by concessionary companies of telecommunication services.

By bringing together representatives and leaders of the three countries, the intention of the Work Bank was to “highlight and call the attention of the of opinion makers for this picture and to alert them to the fact that the advance in knowledge and of technology can create a gap that is even larger between the developed and the developing countries.” explains Dr. Brito Cruz. The expectation of the bank is that these “opinion makers” meet once again, at their own initiative, and create a movement in favor of the inclusion of the digital world in their own country. “Brazil is going through a favorable moment. The Minister of Science and Technology has made important efforts to place science and technology as a priority on the agenda of the government. FAPESP has been giving a good contribution with its programs and results obtained in São Paulo.” said Dr. Cruz.

List of the Brazilian participants
José Paulo Silveira (Ministry of Planning); Carlos Américo Pacheco (Ministry of Science and Technology); Edson Machado Souza (Ministry of Education); Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz (FAPESP); Carlos Frischtak (Worldinvest Emp. Consultancy); Sergio Fausto (Finance Ministry); Maria Clara do Prado (Gazeta Mercantil); Soraia Thomaz Dias Victor (Sec. Adm. of the State of Ceará); Maurício de Almeida Abreu (Ministry of Culture); Carl Dahlman (Word Bank); Antonio Magalhães (World Bank); Henry Uliano Quaresma (Ministry of Culture); Alberto Portugal (Embrapa); Solon Lemos Pinto (Ministry of Planning); Antonio Barros de Castro (UFRJ).