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Government steps up efforts to improve Internet skills

Getting acquainted with the Net at a secondary school near Bern Keystone

The government has given the green light to an ambitious plan to improve computer literacy in Switzerland.

The plan envisages a major new education programme to improve Internet skills, as well as better electronic communications between the government and public.

The cabinet announced its Internet literacy drive on the back of a study, which found that Switzerland is lagging behind several of its competitors, including the United States, Sweden and Britain.

The study by a government-appointed commission said Switzerland has a sophisticated information and communications infrastructure but that there is a shortage of skills needed to run it.

In response, the government has launched an education drive, aimed initially at teachers. The objective, according to the cabinet, is to create a “virtual learning space”, using special education software specifically designed for that purpose.

The plan calls for communications technology to improve governmental contact with the public. “Action plan e-government” is intended to make the state apparatus more “customer friendly”, and envisages linking, via Internet, the federal government with the cantons and communes.

The plan also wants to establish “e-voting”, whereby Switzerland could hold paperless ballots. It is thought this would yield a substantial saving, given that Swiss voters participate in numerous referenda every year.

A third objective is to better regulate “e-commerce”, chiefly to tighten up tax loopholes. As a first step, the government approved new rules compelling companies to register their e-commerce activities in May. However, the study concluded that e-commerce needs to be regulated internationally.

The study predicts that the education drive alone will cost around SFr80 million between 2001 and 2004. It says sales of excess gold reserves by the Swiss National Bank could be used to fund the project after 2005 to the tune of SFr75 million over six to eight years.

The government is due to vote on the funding next year, as part of the finance plan for 2002-04.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR