The latest initiative to bring Internet access to every schoolchild in Switzerland has been taking place this week. More than 60 schools have opened their classrooms to demonstrate computer-based projects, as part of Netdays 2000.
At a press conference in Berne on Tuesday, representatives of government, industry and schools called for the need for Internet access for all.
About half of Switzerland's schools have already taken up the challenge but even here, the use of information technology is still in its infancy.
A pioneering project to show how the Internet can be used as a classroom tool has been taking place at the KV Business School in Zurich.
Two classes had lessons at home over the Internet for five weeks and the aim is to expand the project for the entire school.
Project leader, Renato Maag, explained the advantages and disadvantages: "From the point of view of the students, they learn how to use their free time. However, one of the drawbacks is that there's no teacher to give feedback although we are going to try and make it possible for a teacher to be available to chat to next year.
"It does call for much greater self-discipline and not everybody has that - we've had some very bad results but I think it's a great experience to develop the ability to learn on your own."
KV Zurich has about 500 personal computers all with Internet access. Lorenz Ramseyer, project leader of Netdays 2000 Switzerland, said there is still a way to go before all schools are online:
"In school we have some pioneers. They did the first step but it's still a long way to go to the goal of having an Internet connection in each classroom. For example you have to teach the teachers about ICT technologies. This costs a lot of money."
Government and industry are keen to promote IT training in schools because of the shortage of specialists. About 124,000 people are employed in Switzerland in the IT sector and the industry needs about 10,000 more.
Marc Furrer, director of the Swiss federal office for communications, said: "The challenge is that we do not have to import British, Danish, Swedish, Finnish and German specialists for our information technologies. Every Swiss telecommunications firm still needs these people and I think we should really be able to educate more of these people ourselves."
Another issue is the under representation of women in the world of IT. Heinrich Summermatter, federal office for technology and training, said: "In Switzerland we have only about four per cent of women in this sector and for instance in the US there are 20 per cent."
by Vincent Landon