Teachers Are a Priority for Timor-Leste’s Development

October 4, 2013

The World Bank

  • During the conflicts in 1999, schools in Timor-Leste were demolished and most of the teachers fled the country.
  • Developing teachers’ capacity has become a priority for the government and donors.
  • Now more teachers have education degrees and classrooms have more resources.

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. 

" If we have better quality teachers, we will have better quality students "

Fr. Plinio Martins

Influential educator in Ulmera Liquica District.

“If we have better quality teachers, we will have better quality students,” says Fr. Plenio Martins, an influential educator in Ulmera Liquica District. “That’s the question we really need to explore, because we will need good quality equipment, good quality resources, and good quality trainers.”

The World Bank has been supporting the education sector in Timor-Leste since 2000.  Recently this has focused on expanding primary and secondary school facilities, providing learning and teaching materials, and improving the quality of learning through teacher training and curriculum development.

Projects have been financed by grants from the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) with support from other donors including Australia and the Global Partnership for Education