Timor-Leste: Bringing better education for Timorese children

April 4, 2013


Early Grade Mathematics Assessments (EGMA) Survey in process

The Education Sector Support Project helped increase children's completion of primary school in Timor-Leste to over 83 percent by 2012, an increase of 10 percent and exceeding the original target of 80 percent. Nearly half of these students are girls (as shown by the gender parity index of 99 percent in 2012, compared to 95 percent in 2007). By 2012, 2,172 classrooms were built or rehabilitated (expected to be 2,300 by 2013). A National Education Strategic Plan is also now in place and in early implementation.


Timor-Leste’s ten years of independence have been marked by both progress and conflicts. At independence, many schools had been destroyed and there were also severe shortages of teachers. There were immediate challenges in reconstructing essential infrastructure, to ensure children could get to a school, along with recruitment and training of teachers and other education professionals.  Meanwhile, rapid population growth created additional pressure for the government to provide a quality education system for future generations. The government is committed to ensuring that children are not only going to school, but that they are learning effectively.


The Education Sector Support Project (ESSP) was designed to support government’s effort to advance progress in the education sector by:

  • Strengthening the capacity of the Ministry of Education to develop, design, plan and implement an effective education policy
  • Supporting the Ministry to provide critical learning materials, such as textbooks and reading tools, that would help children learn to read and write
  • Constructing and rehabilitating 2,100 classrooms, which would add new places for more than 65,000 students
  • Addressing youth-related skills development opportunities to increase job prospects and opportunities, through training more teachers in technical and vocational fields
  • Supporting the design and implementation of the Escola Basica school organization model, including through the training of inspectors, school directors, deputies and school board members in 250 schools
  • Supporting policy design and building professional skills for effective early childhood development.


Students at a primary school using the learning materials provided by the IDA grant financed project


  • Strengthened capacity of the Ministry of Education to develop, design, plan and implement an effective education policy as indicated by:
    • More children are completing primary school. Completion rates increased from 73 percent in 2009 to over 83 percent in 2012, which exceeded the original target of 80 percent. Primary school dropout rates also decreased from 12 percent in 2008/09 to 4 percent in 2010.
    • The gender parity index increased to 99 percent in 2012 from 95 percent in 2009.
  • Improved school facilities: 2,172 classrooms were built or rehabilitated by 2012; an additional 128 classrooms will be built/renovated and 259 classrooms will be maintained by July 2013. All schoolchildren in grades 1-3 now have access to vital learning materials, with early grade schools each provided with 148 learning aides over the course of the project.
  • The project has supported repeated Early Grade Reading and Mathematics Assessments to assess learning progress across the country. 
  • The National Education Strategic Plan is now in place and currently in its early stages of implementation; the legal framework has also been significantly developed, including the Basic Education Organic Law and a significant list of decrees.


Students at a primary school using the learning materials provided by the IDA grant financed project

Bank Group Contribution

The project was funded by an International Development Association (IDA) grant of US$6.0 million, a trust fund from the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) of US$6.2 million, as well as contributions from the Government of Timor-Leste of US$2.9 million. The total amount for this project was US$15.1 million. In November 2010, the project received additional IDA grant funding of US$5.0 million and in 2012, AusAID provided a further US$2.97  million to continue expanding school infrastructure and meet government goals to ensure all communities have access to basic education.


The success of the project is greatly determined by the effective partnership among the World Bank, AusAID, the New Zealand Aid Programme (NZAID) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The contribution from AusAID supported the construction and rehabilitation of classrooms and other school infrastructure while NZAID supported the development of effective education policy through their Capacity Building for Policy program.  The ESSP supports the development and implementation of the Ministry of Education’s Strategic plan. UNICEF supported the teacher training, development of the Early Child Education policy, and Education Management Information System. The World Bank also administers the Management Strengthening Project, a Global Partnership for Education grant.

" The learning materials help us teachers a lot. I find it easier to teach the children and they are keen to come to school. They all look happy and feel like they are coming to school to have fun through all the games and the singing. At the same time it helps them understand math, reading and writing. "

Adelina Mendonça

Teacher at a basic school in Tibar, District of Liquiça.


A student at a primary school is using the learning materials provided by the IDA grant financed project.

Moving Forward

The Bank approved two rounds of additional funding for the ESSP in 2010 and 2012 for provision of primary school furniture, renovations to school classrooms, and to implement a learning material policy.  The project will be completed in June 2013.
To complement the ESSP, two other projects have also been developed: 1) the Second Chance Education Project (US$5.0 million), approved in 2010, to support the Ministry of Education to increase community participation in education; improve adult literacy programs, and to help train staff and develop school curricula and 2) the Management Strengthening Project (US$2.8 million), approved in 2012, to strengthen management capacity in the Ministry of Education.


The project is improving the quality of service delivery through training and professional support to teaching staff; supporting curriculum development; and providing new learning materials to schools in both Portuguese and Tetum.

Classrooms have been built as of 2012.