The authorities have announced plans to increase the use of the Internet as an educational tool. They said an annual event called Netdays, to be held in November, would focus on four themes.
These are citizenship in the virtual world, diverse cultural identities in Switzerland and Europe, fighting what they term virtual illiteracy and developing net-based teaching tools.
The organisers, the Swiss Centre for Informational Technologies in Teaching, said the theme this year is "bringing the world into the classroom". They are asking schools, teachers and pupils to come up with ideas for projects for Netdays 2000. The best will be chosen for government funding, and will also receive private sector sponsorship.
The organisers hope to build on the success of last year's event. Netdays 1999 involved 35 countries and 1,300 projects in Europe alone, and 60 Swiss schools took part. Lorenz Ramseyer from the Swiss centre said that last year the activities ranged from online pan-European chat sessions for teenagers, to computer-based story writing and painting for kindergarten pupils.
However, Ramseyer said it was important for Netdays not to be too focused on school-age children and students, for whom the web has already lost some of its mystique. Netdays 2000 is being run in cooperation with seniorweb.ch, an online group dedicated to making sure Swiss pensioners do not miss out on the medium's potential.
To launch the preparations for Netdays 2000, and to illustrate the point that the web is something for all ages, the economics minister Pascal Couchepin played the role of guinea pig. A self-confessed web novice, Couchepin logged on to an online chat room, and answered questions about next Sunday's referendum on Switzerland's bilateral accords with the European Union.
Couchepin judged his foray into the virtual world a success. However, he said he would probably have to wait until retirement before he could spend more time on the chat room circuit.
Netdays began in the United States in 1996, with its European equivalent taking root the following year. The project has snowballed since the tentative first steps three years ago. Switzerland has seized on the opportunity to make sure its pupils are web-aware. In relative terms, the country is currently third in Europe when it comes to school-based online projects.
by Jonathan Fowler