Britz, J.J., Lorc, P.J., Coetzee, I.E.M., & Bestere, B.C. (2006). Africa as a knowledge society: A reality check. The International Information & Library Review 38, 25-40.
Britz et al.’s (2005) article provides a practical picture of the goals and structure of a knowledge society by analyzing this construct in relation to Africa. Britz et al., on the other hand, offer concrete examples that reveal the challenges of Africa and allow me to cross-reference with my experiences here in the US and in India. Britz et al. chose to use four pillars of a knowledge society to frame their discussion of Africa’s current status. I would like to learn the origins of this four pillar construction because it seemed to hit the presses simultaneously in several different articles in 2005. I read it in Dahlman & Utz’s (2005) Worldbank publication, India and the knowledge economy: Leveraging strengths and opportunities, where they used about 10 words to 1 to express the same pillars:
· An economic and institutional regime that provides incentives for the efficient creation, dissemination, and use of existing knowledge.
· An educated and skilled population that can create and use knowledge.
· An efficient innovation system of firms, research centers, universities, consultants, and other organizations that can tap into the growing stock of global knowledge and assimilate and adapt it to local needs, as well as to create relevant new knowledge.
· Dynamic information infrastructure that can facilitate the effective communication, dissemination, and processing of information.
In this report, Dahlman and Utz (2005) take on a similar task as Britz et al.; however, their approach was more of a plan for the future than an assessment of current status.
The most compelling part of the Britz et al. article to me was that of access to scholarship and, in many ways, access to prestige, or ability to build a reputation for knowledge. I heard a plea from an Australian scholar at a conference last year reminding US scholars to search outside of US published journals and cite more foreign authors. He actually proposed a quota of trying to include at least 30% foreign articles in our research. With the metrics of citation now so readily available through Google scholar searches, this plea makes sense and supports the concern Britz et al. have for African output making it into the “mainstream of science and scholarship.”
Mostly, this article took me back to one of the most incredible teaching experiences of my life. In 2001, I was given the sole responsibility of hosting ten students from Rwanda to Michigan State University as their two month intensive academic English instructor. They had come through a grant program seeking to repopulate the faculty of Rwandan universities with agriculture Professors. I am still in touch with several of these students, and, to date, none of them have returned to Rwanda, yet many have graduated. This example highlights the basic premise of the Britz et al. article: without improvements in safety and infrastructure, other efforts towards scholarship and knowledge society building may never take hold, as those who gain access to the power knowledge provides can’t be blamed for using that power to seek out more comfortable and convenient places to live.
It is difficult to overcome the reality of “relative deprivation.” My Indian family members and friends lament all the time of wishing to be in India but appreciating too much the relative ease of American life. It is interesting to consider whether or not distance learning solutions might help alleviate this problem. If these Rwandan students had been able to access the MSU curriculum from Rwanda in an online learning program, might they now be faculty members of Rwandan universities?