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Women wise up to the web

Monika Reber-Wyss (centre) with course participants, Katharina Lehner (left) and Marlise Kammermann


The Federal Office for Vocational training (BBT) is running a pioneering project to get more women online, in a bid to narrow the gender gap when it comes to computer and Internet literacy.

The two-week pilot summer camp is the first of its kind in Switzerland; both teachers and students are female.

The students, who work in higher education as teachers or administrators, are giving up 14 days of their summer vacation to learn skills which will help them in their professional and private lives.

Trawling for news

Currently, Swiss women account for just a third of total online surf time with only one in four of them ever logging on. Men on the other hand are web savvy with 50 per cent of them trawling the net on a regular basis.

With communication increasingly electronic, as news arrives by e-mail or via web sites, women are at a disadvantage if they do not wise up to the web.

Monika Weber-Ryss, leader of BBT's all-female project, told swissinfo the current situation is leaving women more marginalized.

"Nowadays we have a lot of information on the Internet and if you are not able to access it you are out of business," she says, "so we try to encourage ladies to enter the Internet too."

In Switzerland women are playing catch up with male counterparts in all areas of Information technology (IT) with their online ability merely serving as a barometer of their competence with computers in general.

Weber-Ryss hopes to give the 50 women on her course the knowledge and practice they need to compete in a high-tech world. Her task is especially important given that Switzerland has far fewer women working in IT than other developed economies.

"Ladies are not in the computer business in Switzerland as much [as in other countries]," she says, " I know a figure of about 4 per cent and this is very low. In the US and other EU countries it`s about 40 per cent so it seems that something is quite special here in Switzerland."

Positive response

The SFr300,000, ($174,000), course is funded by the Swiss government and response to it has been positive.

Marlise Kammermann, a participant, told swissinfo she enjoyed learning in an all-female environment.

"This is the first time I've done something like this in an all-women group and I feel very much at home," she said. "I also hope we can start a network between women so we can collaborate on projects as well as making some private contacts."

For Katharina Lehner, a teacher from Zurich's commercial school, the benefits of her new IT skills extend beyond the classroom.

"I have a project which I've just started which involves tutoring at different vocational schools. One of my students lives in Chur, about an hour from Zurich," she said, "so maybe I could put my project on the net after this course and this student wouldn't have to travel to Zurich for every session we have."

Following graduation of the class of 2001 on July 27, the course's success will be evaluated over the next year.

For her part, Reber-Wyss is hopeful that another session can be pencilled in for 2003.

By Sally Mules


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