Patagonian Joneses try to keep up the Welsh

3rd January 2003 at 00:00
Wanted: Welsh teachers willing to expand their cultural horizons by travelling to a place where lots of people are called Evans or Jones, the weather is inclement and the economy is based on sheep.

Jenny Randerson, Welsh Assembly minister for culture, sport and the Welsh language, has announced funding of pound;105,000, over three years, to support Welsh-language education in Patagonia.

The grant will finance cultural activities to preserve the region's Welsh identity. This will include secondment of Welsh-language teachers. "The Assembly is keen to develop the international profile of Wales, and links between Wales and Patagonia enrich both sides," Ms Randerson said.

There are some 7,000 people of Welsh origin living in the Chubut province of Patagonia. They are descendants of pioneers who sailed to Argentina in 1865. Many still speak Welsh and run sheep farms.

However, many Welsh educationists feel that cultural enrichment should begin at home, expecially as there is a severe shortage of Welsh-language teachers: a problem that can only be exacerbated if teachers go abroad.

Alison Brown, head of Argoed comprehensive, in Flintshire, has had to advertise repeatedly to fill a vacancy in her Welsh department. "We're in a desperate situation. I don't think they listen to what's going on here," she said. "This is appalling and astounding, especially when money's so tight at Welsh schools - we're crying out for building works."

Three teachers will be sent to Patagonia each year. In exchange, six Patagonians will visit Wales for a two-month language course.

"We're sending teachers at the request of the people out there, because they don't have any at the standard required," said Linda Hall, Welsh regional manager for the British Council, which is running the project for the Assembly.

Welsh schools, Ms Hall claims, will ultimately benefit. She said staff who went to Patagonia would return to Wales "enriched" and be better teachers.

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