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Training obstacle blocks the highway

Thousands of classrooms all over America are being hooked up to the Internet so that a generation of students will grow experienced in using the computer network.

The trouble is, too few teachers understand it. So vast is the gulf that educational organisations, teachers' unions and technology companies last month set out to recruit 100,000 computer-literate teachers willing to train less-enlightened counterparts.

"The teachers will have new and exciting ways to teach traditional subjects, " said President Clinton, who announced the plan. "They'll be able to exchange lesson plans with other teachers, communicate more frequently with parents, help students unfamiliar with computers and keep up with students who already are."

But most teachers are not keeping up. The Twenty First-Century Teacher initiative calls for 100,000 volunteers who will each tutor five colleagues in computer skills. So far, however, only 4,000 volunteers have stepped forward, and there are three million teachers in America to train.

The shortage of teachers with computer skills also has been recognised at the state level. The state of West Virginia, for example, had to divert one-third of its computer literacy budget to teacher training.

Meanwhile, the process of wiring schools to the Internet proceeds apace. President Clinton has called for every classroom to be connected to the international computer network by 2000. As of last year, half the nation's public schools were linked to the Internet.

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