Oil anglicises islanders

June 18, 1999

People living in one of Russia's most remote and poorest regions are getting a dose of English education as a prelude to oil exploration by BP-Amoco.

A Russian-British centre opened last month in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, capital of Sakhalin Island, in the Sea of Japan.

The centre is a collaboration between local government and the British Council. BP-Amoco, which in partnership with Russians, is seeking offshore oil exploration licences, gave Pounds 150,000 to set up the centre.

Sakhalin, prosperous in Soviet times, has suffered from a collapse in the market for timber, fish and oil extracted from existing on-shore sources.

The erosion of central government since 1991 hit Russia's Far East hard. Many communities have rich reserves of mineral or natural wealth but lack cash for infrastructure investment.

Oil and gas reserves in the Sea of Okhotsk are potentially greater than those of the North Sea and in time can bring wealth and prosperity. With unemployment running at 6 per cent locals are keen for the work, and as English is the lingua franca of the oil industry it is an essential qualification.

The Russian-British Centre, based at an in-service teacher training institute, will run courses on university English teaching, library services and the internet. It will also offer Cambridge certificates in English language.

The centre is the first European education presence on Sakhalin, where people traditionally learn Japanese. Its significance was underlined by the presence at the opening ceremony of Tony Lonrigg, deputy head of mission at the British Embassy, Moscow.

Igor Farhutdinov, Sakhalin's governor, said: "We won't know how effective it will be until it is up and running, but if unemployment drops that will prove its success. The centre promises to improve cooperation between Sakhalin and Britain."

Official unemployment figures mask a swathe of working people who receive poverty-level wages and survive by cultivating plots of lands or hunting in the forests.

Oksana Romanovskaya, from the English and German department of Sakhalin State University, said teaching and learning suffered because of a shortage of modern textbooks and poor access to vernacular English.

Ms Romanovskaya, who supplements her 500 roubles (Pounds 12) monthly salary by moonlighting as a translator of scientific papers, is one of five teacher-trainers the British Council has sent to Lancaster University this month for a three-week upgrading course.

The team will begin retraining other teachers on their return, aiming to effect a modernisation of English teaching in five years.

Tony Andrews, director of the British Council in Russia, said: "We have a shared objective to ensure that the young people of Sakhalin have the opportunity to participate in the wealth that will come to the island from the oil and gas industry."

Norrie Stanley, vice-president BP-Amoco Exploration, Russia and Ukraine, said: "As a responsible oil and gas company we are judged not only by our financial results but also by the contribution we make to communities in which we work."

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