The Swiss cabinet on Wednesday approved a proposal aimed at allowing the federal authorities to take part in a campaign by private industry and cantons to grant schools free access to the Internet.
The Economics Ministry said the government would contribute SFr100 million ($60 million) to the programme over the next five years. It envisions that 4,000 primary and secondary schools across the country can be offered free access to the web.
The funding, which has not yet been approved by parliament, would go towards special training for teachers. Both houses of parliament will discuss the costs involved later this year.
The ministry also said the cantons would spend up to SFr900 million ($545 million), mainly for the necessary infrastructure of the programme. Six companies have agreed to pay SFr100 million ($60 million) for hard and software, according to a statement.
The cantons and private industry launched the campaign last December. Its aim is to help Switzerland's education system adapt to new technologies. The authorities say the programme is in keeping with the government's policy of strengthening Switzerland's role in the information society.
Online by January
The developments come a day after Switzerland's leading telecommunications operator, Swisscom, said it would invest several million francs to enable Swiss pupils to access the web from the classroom. Other companies taking part in the projects are Apple, Cisco, IBM, Postfinance and Yellowworld.
Several schools have indicated their willingness to take part in trials. The authorities said they hoped that up to 1,000 schools would be hooked up to the Internet by the end of this year.
Previous attempts by the government to promote modern technology at schools proved to be ineffective. In 1997, the finance ministry and the founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, launched a campaign to provide schools with old personal computers from the federal administration. But only 120 PCs finally found their way to Swiss schools.
In the past few months the campaign has been hampered by disputes over funding procedures and the role of cantons. Initially the government wanted to use money from the sale of excess gold of the National Bank or from the proceeds of the sale of UMTS licences.
by Urs Geiser