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Digital divide leaves less educated worse off

One third of the Swiss population regularly uses the Internet


Switzerland tops the world league in terms of investment in information technology. Yet a substantial proportion of the population is failing to derive benefits from the IT revolution, according to new statistics.

The latest figures from the federal statistical office, released on Tuesday, show that while Switzerland has a good IT infrastructure, there is a noticeable gender, educational and generation gap. Worst affected are people without a university education.

Switzerland leads the list of OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries in terms of IT investment. With an average outlay of around SFr3,800, it spends more per capita than either the United States or the Scandinavian countries.

However, research into Internet usage shows an elitist trend. Around 70 per cent of university and college graduates use the Internet, but that figure drops to 19 per cent among people with only a secondary school education.

Carlo Malaguerra, the director of the statistical office, told swissinfo that the problem is primarily one of education. "People have to be educated, but not just in universities, also in primary schools. The educational system has to change. We have to have a programme for permanent education."

The federal statistical office says that in 2000, one-third of the Swiss population regularly used the Internet. It adds that the number of students and apprentices learning how to work with information and communication technology has increased considerably since the mid-1990s.

But with increased usage, the divide has become more marked. Half of people between the ages of 14 and 29 regularly used the Internet in 2000, but only one in seven from the age of 50.

Women too are largely under-represented when it comes to training in information and communication technology.

Peter Fischer, the assistant director of the federal office for communications, sees a divide in the Swiss population between rich and poor and says it is important to provide an infrastructure and services that everybody can afford.

"But this isn't enough. People also have to know how to handle information technology and for this we need to train people starting in the schools. We have to integrate Internet as a common discipline in every class."

by Paul Sufrin


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