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Young people: The connected generation

20 October 2011 - More than a quarter of the earth’s population is aged between 10 and 24 years, the vast majority living in developing countries. Young people are growing up in an increasingly connected world that is being transformed by information and communication technologies (ICTs). With ICTs fundamentally changing the way we live, work and play, access to these technologies and expertise in using them have become essential elements in the education and development of young people, equipping them not simply for jobs in the digital economy but for a fuller life as engaged digital citizens.

ICTs are already revolutionizing delivery of education and training. They are being used as teaching aids in the classroom. They are enabling distance learning and training, for teachers as well as students. They are broadening access to information and knowledge through open education resources and open access to scientific articles. And they are opening up new career opportunities in the ICT arena.

At the same time, there are still millions of children around the world who are not at school and millions more whose schools have no access to ICTs and the Internet. ITU’s Connect a School, Connect a Community initiative, a public-private partnership launched in 2009, aims to connect all primary, secondary and post-secondary schools to ICTs by 2015, a target set by world leaders at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in 2003/2005. The schools will also serve as community ICT centres for disadvantaged and vulnerable groups, including women and girls.

Youth is given a high priority in all ITU’s activities; as the most avid and creative users of ICTs, they are often key contributors to building an inclusive information society and bridging the digital divide. In 2003 ITU launched a dedicated Youth Programme to promote young people’s access to and use of ICTs in developing countries. It is also taking the lead in making the internet a safer place for children and young people as part of its Global Cybersecurity Agenda.

ITU’s work for and with young people includes:

  •  ITU Telecom Youth Forums: Since 2001, ITU has organized a Telecom Youth Forum alongside the ITU Telecom events. The forum provides young people with an opportunity to participate in high-level discussions on ICT issues as well as encouraging many to embark upon ICT-related careers. A Youth Forum Alumni Network provides former participants with a collaborative platform to discuss ideas and share information. The network also enables youth forum alumni to voice their opinions on current ICT issues and stay informed about ITU activities.
  •  Statistics on ICT use by children and youth: In 2008, ITU produced the first compilation of statistics on use of ICTs by young people. The report also identified shortcomings and gaps in the available data and recommended improvements. ITU plans to update the compilation every four years to help monitor developments and provide a basis for further action to close the digital divide.
  •  Protecting children in cyberspace: The Child Online Protection (COP) initiative, part of ITU’s broader Global Cybersecurity Agenda, brings together partners from all sectors of the international community with the aim of creating a safe and secure online experience for children everywhere. Launched in 2008, the initiative has already developed global guidelines for children, parents, governments and industry and is now working on a variety of training and prevention activities. These include: interoperable technical standards to protect children online; the development of industry codes of conduct; the establishment of national hotlines; the development of national roadmaps and legislative toolkits; training for parents, guardians and educators; and the sharing of advice and information on policies and practices. The COP initiative aims to find global solutions that effectively combat online threats to children without stifling the internet’s power to inform, educate and improve lives. Threats can range from online bullying to the viewing of disturbing pornographic or violent images to stalking or “grooming” children by abusive adults.
  •  Child helpline: ITU is lobbying telecoms administrations around the world to consider the allocation of the number 116 111 to give access to helplines run by organizations dedicated to the support and welfare of children. Already in use in several European countries, the universal use of this number would make it easier for children to access help when they need it, wherever they are.

Through their use of ICTs, young people are shaping the world and especially the online world. They will play an increasing role in influencing the decisions of governments and companies on such issues as privacy, data protection and safety and security online. A working group on youth of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development, chaired by ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré, is putting together a document on Youth and ICT, prepared exclusively by young people, for presentation to the UN General Assembly in late 2011.


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