Dili, TIMOR-LESTE – There is no doubt that teachers have enormous responsibilities in all countries, but in Timor-Leste they have faced weighty challenges.
Domingos de Deus Maia, former Director-General of the Department of Education, describes the state of the country’s education system at independence in 2002.
“After 1999 everything was destroyed. Buildings were torn down, schools had been demolished. The teachers fled to the other side. Most of the teachers came from Indonesia, so they all fled.
“We had nothing. There were just a few teachers left. The infrastructure was in ruins. From 2002, we had to rebuild everything.”
Many of today’s teachers started as volunteers during this period, without training, a curriculum, or basic learning materials. Many were teaching large numbers of children under the trees, in tents, or among ruins where schools once stood.
Isaura Cardosa de Fatima is a teacher in Aituto, in a remote part of central Timor-Leste. She started teaching during the conflict as a volunteer and finds it hard to relay the challenges she faced during these “dark times”.
“At that time we were sitting on the floor,” she tells us. “The children brought mats from home to sit on. The teachers were standing because there were no chairs and no desks. We now have enough learning materials to help us teach the children, but back in the first years it was very difficult. We didn’t have anything.”
Education in Timor-Leste has made great progress
Since then, there has been progress. Hundreds of schools and thousands of classrooms have been repaired or rebuilt around the country. Nearly all children, boys and girls, are enrolling in primary school, and more classrooms are being added to help accommodate growing enrollments.
Teacher training has also improved. Last year, hundreds of new teachers graduated with bachelor degrees from the National Institute for Training of Teachers and Education Professionals (INFORDEPE), and training is being provided not just to teachers but also school directors and administrators, to help them manage schools and budgets.
“We are progressing,” says Lucas da Costa, a secondary school teacher in the town of Aileu. “At this school now, the majority of the teachers have bachelors’ degrees. There are some who just finished at high school, but only a few. Slowly, we are introducing the new curriculum. There have been many changes.”
There is still much to be done. The country has developed a National Education Strategic Plan which outlines the government’s comprehensive vision for developing the education sector in both the long term (2011-2030) and the medium term (2011-2015). It sets the country priorities, including to improve the quality of education by substantially increasing the quality of teaching in pre-school, basic and secondary education.
Improving teachers is a priority for the government and donors
Working to develop the capacity of teachers through training, and ensuring they are appropriately resourced in the classroom, is a priority for the government and donors, and teachers like Isaura will have a tremendous role to play in building a better education system for Timorese children.