Education in Timor-Leste
Timor-Leste is a Southeastern Asian country occupying the east side of the island, Timor. The small country is home to a little more than 1 million people. Unfortunately, the literacy rate is only 67.5 percent. Improving the quality of education has been a struggle, but there has been significant progress in the past 18 years. Here are eight facts about education in Timor-Leste.

 8 Facts About Education in Timor-Leste

    1. By 2001, a year before gaining its independence, 90 percent of schools had been destroyed due to the violence and destruction that ensued from Indonesia’s rule over the country. These destroyed schools had once employed 6,000 teachers and educated 240,000 children. After Timor-Leste gained its independence, the country had to completely rebuild these institutions from the ground up.

    2. Because of the focus on rebuilding education, Timor-Leste was able to make quick progress. Between 2002 and 2014, enrollments went from 240,000 students enrolled to 364,000. The number of teachers doubled during this time, going from 6,000 to 12,000. Primary education enrollment increased from 68 percent in 2005 to 85 percent in 2008.

    3. Despite the increase in school enrollment, many young and adult Timorese lack the basic education needed to fully participate in society and contribute to the economy. Unfortunately, 27 percent of the adult population is semi-literate and 37 percent is completely illiterate.

    4. In 2010, the World Bank set up its Second Chance Education project to boost the number of out-of-school youth and adults who have access to an equivalency program to receive the education they missed. The Second Chance Education project ran from December 2010 to December 2015, supporting the Ministry of Education in Timor-Leste. Its major goals included training staff members, developing school curriculums and improving existing adult literacy programs. The same year, the government aimed to accelerate the completion of basic education for uneducated students due to lack of availability, while trying to build the education system back up. Government expenditure on education had increased from 13 percent in 2004 to 25 percent in 2010.

    5. The quality of education has room for improvement. About 70 percent of students in grade one could not read a single written word in Portuguese and the native Tetum language, the two most commonly spoken languages in the country. This, however, decreased to 40 percent by the end of grade two. Still, by the end of their second year of schooling, 40 percent of kids are still illiterate.

    6. Many teachers have only completed secondary school themselves. But with UNICEF supporting the Ministry of Education, teachers are trained in order to improve the quality of education. Teachers who have already gone through training have noticed that with their new direction toward teaching, students are more engaged and more conversation between instructor and student.

    7. There is a large gap between access to education between rural and urban areas. For urban residents, the enrollment rate for pre-secondary and secondary levels is 100 percent, while in rural areas, it is only 60 percent. Likewise, the literacy rate for youth ages 15-24 in urban sections of the country is 94.3 percent, but 78.5 in rural locations. The Education Management Information System works toward future teacher redistribution. This will place more teachers in rural areas in hopes of increasing the quality of education and bridging the gap between rural and urban.

    8. CARE’s Lafaek Education project provided “Lafaek Prima,” educational magazines written in Tetum, for 85,276 students in grades three and four. This builds off of what these students already learned in grades one and two; the content prepared in collaboration with teachers, educational staff and the government, ensures that the magazine is suitable for their students.

Despite working from the ground up, education in Timor-Leste has greatly improved since it gained its independence in 2002. The government has stepped in, as well as other organizations, to prioritize educational needs across the country. In the long term, this will assist the Timorese in climbing out of poverty.

Jordan Miller
Photo: Flickr