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Crossed wires dog East-West exchange

RUSSIA. Teenage students of school number 1279 in the southern suburbs of the Russian capital entered the London-Moscow Schools Challenge looking for an intellectual battle.

As the team devised a project on how London teenagers move from school into work they found the real test involved challenging stereotypes.

The 15 and 16-year-old students taking part in the British Council and Moscow city government-backed competition entitled Tales of Two Cities, wrote to careers and youth organisations in London. They asked for information on jobs for young people in the capital, explaining they were working on a careers video or multimedia project.

Some organisations didn't reply or misunderstood, but the Department for Education and Employment came up trumps. Its sent the Moscow youngsters an information pack on the Network Initiative, which covers youth training and Modern Apprenticeships. Its Overseas Labour Service sent a briefing on the work permit scheme for overseas nationals.

Eugenia Stepanova, 15, said: "Our project is about the career opportunities available to children our age in London, but some of the organisations we wrote to simply did not understand that and thought we were looking for jobs for ourselves in London!"

Undeterred, the team is now trying to complete its project before the March deadline for the Moscow regional heats.

Margaret Hay-Campbell, an English language teaching consultant with the British Council in Moscow, who is co-ordinating the Russian school entries, said the competition offered an opportunity to confront and overcome cultural and linguistic differences.

"To generate a project is still quite a new concept within the Russian educational system and for some teachers it's a new experience to give children autonomy and the freedom to organise projects themselves."

In the first round heats the London and Moscow schools will create video or multi-media projects on aspects of London life. Finalists will come to Moscow in the summer to make videos on Moscow life. Russian prize winners will later travel to London for several weeks' tuition at a language school. The top London team will be offered extensive travel around Russia. The winning videos will be used for language and cultural education projects in Moscow and London schools.

The competition got more than 100 Moscow entries and teams from 20 London schools.

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