Plan links classrooms to the Internet
Schools around Switzerland are prepared to go online after parliament approved a financial package to help provide classroom access to the web.
The programme was initiated by private industry and cantons last year to keep Switzerland's educational system on the information superhighway.
The Senate on Wednesday followed the House of Representatives in approving a financial package worth SFr100 million ($60 million).
Private industry has pledged a similar amount. The bulk of the money, up to SFr900 million, will be provided by the country's 26 cantons, since educational matters are mainly in their hands.
Under the plan, the state will mainly finance the software and fund training programmes for teachers. For its part, private industry will be responsible for the technical infrastructure for the five-year project.
Françis Moret of the Swiss Media Institute for Education and Culture says it is important for pupils to learn to use modern information technology: "We live in an information and communication society. Therefore, it is necessary not only to learn to read and write, or do maths, but also to communicate."
"The biggest challenge for schools is to use information and communication technology in geography, history or in language courses," Moret told swissinfo.
He added that the funds are limited: "Two hundred Swiss francs per pupil per year will not be enough. But it is a very good start and it will be important for the federal and regional authorities as well as private industry to work together."
Compared with other industrialised countries, Moret says, the Swiss are not doing badly when it comes to computer knowledge. But he points out considerable differences among the country's regions.
The government has repeatedly pointed out that the project was also in the interest of businesses, which count on staff with a basic understanding of information and communication technology.
Catching up with technology
It is estimated that up to 6,000 public and private primary schools will benefit from the initiative. Most institutions for higher education, as well as a number of primary schools have already installed computer terminals in their classrooms.
There are concerns that Switzerland could lag behind other industrialised countries, if no special effort is made to promote the modern technology.
Various sectors of industry in the past have complained about a lack of computer experts in Switzerland. This prompted calls on the government to bring in specialists from abroad.
In response, the government last May granted several thousand temporary work permits for highly qualified foreign specialists to reduce the shortage of skilled labour in the IT sector.
However, the government said that with the IT promotion drive in Switzerland newly trained Swiss experts would be available in the near future.
Under a plan approved by the government in 1998, everyone in Switzerland would be given access to the information and communication technology. In addition, the government called for efforts to promote the use and acceptance of these technologies.
Previous efforts to bring the Internet to classrooms were plagued by inefficiency and a struggle over financing schemes between the federal and cantonal authorities.
The Finance Ministry and the founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, in 1997 jointly launched a campaign to provide schools with personal computers and software.
But only about 120 terminals, second-hand PCs from the federal administration, found their way into Swiss classrooms as a result.
by Urs Geiser
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