The National Project for Computer Literacy to expand Czechs' computer proficiency and skills

At a time when unemployment in the Czech Republic has breached 10 percent one project could play a vitally important role in job retraining and re-qualification: the National Project for Computer Literacy, kicked off this week by the new Ministry for Information Technology. The aim of the project, according to the Information Minister Vladimir Mlynar, is to make the knowledge of computers and internet use accessible to a wider sphere of the population, in order to expand general proficiency and skills.

"This project is intended to be straightforward, in no way patronising, more for middle-aged and older people, since younger people have more experience. The pilot programme we ran last year under the patronage of Intel was highly successful, attended by 3,000 people in a short period of time. Similar projects in other countries also had an overwhelmingly positive response."

The project draws on a successful smaller-scale pilot programme that took place last year, raising it to the national level, expanding to small towns and more remote regions. This, in keeping with a promise made by the new information minister to try and raise basic computer literacy within the population to fifty percent within the next four years - that's five million people. According to the Factum polling agency, in 2002, 45 percent of Czech adults regularly used computers, while 28 percent used the Internet.

This year, the programme will take place at 140 locations throughout the country, mostly public centres such as schools and libraries, as well as the occasional internet cafe. The organisers hope to reach between 30 - 50, 000 new users, offering two-hour courses for a mere 100 crowns each, about the cost of a meal at many Czech restaurants. Curious about who might be interested, we went out onto Prague's streets to find out just how used some people were to working with information technology...

How well do you understand computers?

"That's the problem, I don't. I'd like to attend the programme, I think lots of people must be interested, of course, but don't have the possibility or time..."

"I use the basics, Windows and Microsoft Excel, Word and so on. Knowledge of computers is definitely necessary, although I think young people generally already know a lot from school. For us older people it's worse."

"Momentarily I'm not employed but I work with computers, I worked with computers. Now, I'm planning to return to work so I need to brush up a bit, Word, Excel!"

"I think the project can be beneficial: re-qualification is needed for people, especially those who are unemployed should try to learn new skills to do something different, what they don't know now. If I was younger, I'd do it too, definitely."

The new project will be divided into five stages teaching new computer users various skills: from basic commands of the operating system to word processing, from sending e-mails to electronic banking.