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The French Government has conferred a prestigious national honour, the Order of the “Palmes Academiques” on four Caribbean women. They are former head of the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus and well known actress, writer and teacher, Mrs. Jean Small; Senior Lecturer and former Head of the Department of French, Dr. Betty Wilson; Coordinator of the Language Laboratory and Lecturer in the Department of Modern Languages at the UWI, Mona Campus, Dr. Marie-Jose N’Zengou-Tayo, and Miss Lilieth Barnaby, a teacher at the well known high school for boys, Kingston College in Jamaica.

The honour was accorded the four women on the proposal of the Ambassador of France, H.E. Pierre-Antoine Berniard, for their contribution to the spreading of French Language and culture in Jamaica and throughout the world. Mrs. Small and Dr. Wilson were promoted from the rank of “Knight” to the rank of “Officer”, and Dr. N’Zengou-Tayo and Miss Barnaby were invested in the rank of “Knight”.

The Order of “Palmes Academiques” is awarded by the French Ministry of Education. Instituted by Emperor Napoleon in 1808, the Palmes Academiques are intended to honour the merits of those persons, in France and overseas, who contribute to the spreading of French language and culture throughout the world.

Pointing out the necessity to express and promote cultural diversity, Ambassador Pierre Berniard reminded those present that French is spoken by more than 170 million people in over 85 countries around the world. He added that it was one of the official languages in the Caribbean, spoken in Haiti and in the French “Départements” of Guadeloupe and Martinique, through which business people have direct access to the European Union.

The Ambassador observed the decline in the teaching and learning of French in Jamaica and strongly encouraged individuals and institutions to join in efforts to give the French language a better future in Jamaica and “real status” within the Jamaican education system.

Jean Small replied on behalf of the awardees and expressed appreciation for the honour which had been conferred on them. She noted that they had all been teaching for upwards of fifty years, maintaining that the greatest reward lay in the appreciation which they had received from their students over the years.

The investiture ceremony at the official Residence of the Ambassador was attended by family and friends of the awardees as well as members of the academic and business community.

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