Mexico inspired by Children's University of Wales

14th March 2008 at 00:00
A pioneering Children's University, which is raising the aspirations of thousands of Welsh youngsters towards higher education through after-school activities, has inspired a similar programme in Mexico.

Phil Bassett, co-founder of the Wrexham-based university and head of the school of education at North East Wales Institute of Higher Education, visited Mexico City in October at the request of the capital's teachers. After seeing work done by the Children's University - run jointly by NEWI and Wrexham Youth Service - Mexican teachers asked for advice in setting up their own scheme offering extra-curricular activities.

Mr Bassett said there were many established activities to work with in Wales, but teaching conditions and pay in Mexico are so poor that courses had to be set up from scratch, with funding from local businesses.

Although there is no culture of after-school clubs in Mexico, the scheme is already proving popular. Teachers there are impressed that after six years, Wales's university has 28,000 members aged between five and 19.

By working with local authorities in three different age groups - Kids' College, Children's University and Youth University - the scheme aims to make higher education a viable option for anyone. The Youth University in particular has grown rapidly. Mr Bassett attributes this to positive work by the National Youth Service.

He said: "For some people in Wales, higher education is not part of their tradition. It is like a foreign language to them. But if we introduce them to this language early, we might remove a barrier."

Mr Bassett said the university supplements the school curriculum. "There are lots of schemes measured by outcome," he added. "If you don't get that magic pass mark, the work you've done is not recorded."

Every hour spent on an activity is worth one credit, and at least 10 per cent must serve the local community. Students receive bronze, silver or gold, depending on their age and credits.

The university has links with more than 160 organisations in Wales and children are involved in activities such as surfing, football tournaments, and putting on plays for retired people.

Estyn has even begun to mention the scheme in inspection reports.

Mr Bassett said: "A couple of young people who don't attend school have gained awards by attending out-of-hours learning.

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