Challenges of knowledge economy

To grow our KE, we need to grow our people as seekers of knowledge and creative thinkers who are not afraid of asking questions

The developing countries are struggling to follow the practices of the knowledge economy (KE). Prime Minister Imran Khan seems keen to increase Pakistan’s share in the knowledge economy and a task force is there to strategize its growth.

An economist or scientist might elaborate KE differently, however, being a researcher and student of information science, knowledge management, and information behaviour, I would like to highlight some very fundamental prerequisites of KE related to the dynamics of the information era, which has taken the whole world by storm.

To begin with, various descriptions of KE can be summarised as: the accessibility of quality information for all, the skills needed to find trustworthy information and using it for excellence, prosperity, and innovation in various fields; and learning constantly for bringing innovation in all fields.

KE experts define it as, “an economy in which growth is dependent on the quantity, quality, and accessibility of the information available, rather than the means of production” and “in KE, a large portion of economic growth and employment is a result of knowledge-intensive activities.

Furthermore, a knowledge-intensive activity involves the collection, analysis, and synthesis of information”. As a result, the “success in a knowledge economy requires a commitment by both workers and firms to continually learn and to increase their skills and expertise, which will foster innovation”.

Growth in KE in various countries is closely related to their information environment. There is another haves and have-nots division known as information-rich and information-poor based on peoples’ access to information. The concept of information poverty and information-poor first appeared in the United States of America during the 1970s to depict the difficulties faced by societies, communities and individuals while accessing information.

Later literature also speaks of information inequality, information divide, information disparity, information inequity etc. Covid-19 has widely exposed the information poverty of various communities all over the world. In the developing and less developed countries, a vast majority has been suffering due to the digital divide.

The impact of connectivity issues on education has emerged as a serious threat to both students and institutions. One can only imagine the gap in the learning of information-poor students and its outcome on their future.

The first prerequisite of KE is equity in access to information by encountering the state of information disparity. Information for all is a matter of great concern for international organisations, such as the UNESCO. It is a fundamental human right.

The baise of KE lies in constantly finding and consuming high-quality, trustworthy information, using it for up-skilling one’s learning for excellence, and bringing novelty in one’s productions and services.

We cannot grow our KE without addressing the issue of the digital divide. Therefore, immediate actions are needed to provide equal access to information. The government has realised this disparity and the prime minister has recently held a meeting on expanding the telecom networking.

The second type of information poverty which is affecting the growth of KE is due to the lack of information skills. This weakness directly influences the quality of any products and services offered in the market. Whereas, the first type of prerequisite, related to infrastructure, is tangible, and can be fixed with tangible resources, this second type is complicated because it is related mainly to the culture, education system, pedagogies, and an individual’s quest for knowledge.

An information-skilled adult is an independent, life-long learner and analytical thinker. Unfortunately, most students in our country are trained only in rote learning without a focus on developing skills as independent learners and analytical thinkers.

Information skills enable us to find high-quality information through a dependable source by using smart searching techniques in a digital environment, analyze it, synthesise it, and use it ethically. This is paramount in making informed decisions for success at all levels —personal, organisational, and national.

Poor information skills in searching, finding, using, and sharing without checking its origin, authenticity, timeliness, and trustworthiness frequently result in harm.

We all see tons of poor/manipulated information shared on social media as authentic. The damage done in this manner may not always be tangible or measurable. For example, a lack of these skills among the scholarly elite might result in finding, using, and promoting poor quality scholarship, even without realising that (it’s another area to write about). To grow our KE, we need to grow our people as seekers of knowledge/information, confident and creative thinkers who are not afraid of asking questions and innovative ideas.

The basis of KE lies in constantly finding and consuming high-quality, trustworthy information, using it for up-skilling one’s learning for excellence, and bringing novelty in one’s products and services: This ‘one’ may be an individual, an organisation, a factory or a nation.

Addressing both aspects of information poverty, i.e., access to information and information skills is of prime importance in the growth of our KE. The government needs to work on the expansion of ICTs infrastructure for providing equity in access whereas the academic programmes must include imparting of information skills from the primary to the higher education.

I am pleased to say that we at the University of Home Economics have included a three-credit-hour compulsory course on Information and Digital Literacy Skills in the newly developed BS curriculum to help students become life-long, independent learners as well as ethical and responsible consumers of information. The heart of knowledge economy is knowledge — derived and synthesised for use after accessing trustworthy, high-quality latest information: The more the better for growth in KE.

The writer is the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Home Economics, and Professor of Information Management

Challenges of knowledge economy in Pakistan