Developing countries should not use the digital divide as an excuse to relax efforts to catch up with the information technology revolution, according to a senior official of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Herwig Schlogl, deputy secretary general of the OECD, said developing countries should instead make greater efforts to nurture human resources by cooperating more with developed countries.

“Development assistance will not prevent the digital divide unless the elite in developing countries realize the challenge and realize their responsibility in educating their people,” he said in a recent interview.

“Institutions alone are absolutely worthless if you don’t have the people to run the institutions. So the starting point is education, and the highest return on investment in developing countries is to invest in a child, to send the child to schools. That’s the key,” he said.

Schlogl was in Tokyo last week to participate in the two-day International Symposium on Information Technology and Development Cooperation, held by the Japanese government, the United Nations Development Program and the World Bank.

The conference — the first of its kind held in Japan — addressed the role of IT in promoting the development of the Third World. It also addressed the problem that the growing gap in access to IT poses for the least developed countries.

“Our empirical evidence is that opportunities for developing countries assisted by the rich countries are much higher than the risks (of widening the digital divide), and you should not create a new scapegoat — digital divide — for not tackling the real problem,” Schlogl said.

“Development assistance has to concentrate not only on academic education but vocational training, basic training, and then of course to help these countries to access the technology, to have at least Internet (access) points in each major village,” he said.

Schlogl pointed out that new technology, such as satellite-supported mobile phone services, is availing cheap and easy access to global communications networks via the Internet.

By using such technology, farmers and craftsmen as well as small and midsize enterprises are developing efficient marketing practices, he said.

Also, schools in remote areas can raise the quality of their education by accessing higher learning materials via the Internet, he said, citing successful cases in Australia and Canada.

Referring to the OECD’s recent study on the “new economy,” a concept that describes long-lasting growth driven by IT and regulatory reform as exemplified in the United States, Schlogl said it is very timely for the Group of Eight summit in Okinawa to address IT’s influence on the global economy, including developing countries.

“I think they will define clear orientations of what the governments in the G7 countries are willing to do to help developing countries to use this technology for reducing the gap,” Schlogl said.