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History merges for two nations

After 10 years of talk, Brazil and Argentina have finally agreed to get their schools working in harmony

Brazil and Argentina are to sign an agreement this month integrating their education systems.

The aim is a better-informed younger generation. Ten years after the launch of Mercosur - South America's dominant trading block - Argentines know almost nothing of Portuguese-speaking Brazil's history. Brazilians are equally ignorant about Spanish-speaking America's great liberation heroes such as Simon Bolivar and Jose San Martin.

Argentina's education minister, Daniel Filmus and his Brazilian counterpart, Cristovam Buarque, launched a programme of educational co-operation that, among other things, will produce common modules on history and geography.

Initially, 50 Argentine teachers will be sent to Brazil to help train teachers to teach Spanish. Another 50 Brazilian teachers will make the opposite journey to instruct Argentine teachers in Portuguese.

The accord proposes establishing bilingual (Spanish-Portuguese) schools in the Argentine provinces of Corrientes, Missiones and Formosa and in Brazilian communities near the border, from March 2004.

In the decade since Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay formed Mecosur (known as Mercosul in Brazil) the subject of educational convergence has been often talked about but never tackled until now.

Mr Filmus said: "The common educational content will be decided by a bilateral commission that will meet with school textbook publishers from December onwards. They will design common modules in history and geography and, possibly, civic education."

The aim is to incorporate modules into middle school and lower secondary teaching plans for the school year in 2005.

"Intercultural" schools will operate in the border provinces from next year. These schools will teach in Portuguese for half the day and in Spanish for the other half - the traditional formula for bilingual schools in South America.

Teaching will revolve around Argentine and Brazilian themes in these border areas where the lingua franca is a kind of Spanguese - a mix of Spanish and Portuguese.

Mr Filmus said that the accord proposed financing this education programme in exchange for creditors writing off large parts of Argentina's foreign debt.

Mr Buarque pointed out that reform of the education system was a priority for Brazil's first working-class president, Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, popularly known as Lula.

Brazil's elite attend public universities financed by taxpayers while poorer Brazilians seeking higher education must pay their way through private universities, since generally they do not have the entrance requirements demanded by the state universities.

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