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Hard drive to net literacy

RUSSIA

INCREDULITY has greeted a government plan to show thousands of teachers how to surf the Internet in a massive drive to get Russian schools online.

The ambitious education ministry plan envisages web training for the country's 2 million teachers through intensive annual in-service schemes for 100,000 staff who would then pass on their skills to colleagues.

However, the idea has been met with disbelief in a country where most teachers earn less than pound;50 a month and net-compatible computers sell for a minimum of pound;500.

Education chiefs say they hope that money to provide every school in the country with at least one Internet-connected computer will be made available in next year's federal budget. Business sponsorship will also be sought.

The scheme, launched in Moscow with the backing of oil company Yukos, is designed to ensure that Russia is not left behind in the Internet revolution.

Izvestia, the respected daily newspaper, said that the ministry scheme could not work without priate sponsorship and dubbed development of Internet links in Russia "a Utopian project".

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Yukos president, told teachers that fewer than 30 million Russians - one-fifth of the population - would have access to the Internet within the next 50 years without a major drive to introduce the new technology. Only 3 per cent are currently online.

Yukos, supported by the Russian government, began working on a smaller-scale version of the ministry's scheme in March, when pokoleniye.ru ("generation Russia"), an Internet training scheme for teachers and students, was set up in Moscow and four other cities. Over the next five years, the scheme will be extended to 50 of Russia's 89 regions, with a target of training 10 million youngsters.

Provincial secondary head Vyacheslav Sashenkov from Rtishevo, central Russia, said the ministry's plans faced an uphill struggle. "Money for such plans has a tendency to disappear - and we're 50 years behind the west in the use of technology."

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