- POSTED: 11 Oct 2013 16:41
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Timor Leste is rethinking how it educates its younger generation. At the centre of the issue is what language medium to use in schools.
BAUCAU: Timor Leste is rethinking how it educates its younger generation.
At the centre of the issue is what language medium to use in schools.
The country now has a near perfect enrollment record, 11 years after building the school system from scratch.
But on closer examination, the picture gets murky.
According to the World Bank, in 2009, 70 per cent of students at the end of grade one could not read a single word.
The ratio only improves to 40 per cent with another year of education.
The bank said a full cohort of the population may still be functionally illiterate - a dismal record after a decade of efforts to improve education.
The problem is plain to Father Agnelo Moreira, who runs a primary school in Baucau.
Father Moreira, the principal of Ensino Basico Fillial Catolico Sao Domingos Savio, said: "First of all, the teachers don't really speak Portuguese."
Portuguese is one of Timor's two official languages.
But only a quarter of the population can actually understand it - most prefer the local tongue of Tetum.
But the government considers Tetum too rudimentary, so in the classroom, Portuguese is mandatory.
That decision haunts educators on the ground every day.
Father Moreira said: "I am not against the government, I am not against the constitution, but on this one I see the practical things."
Dulce Soares, vice minister of pre-school and basic education, said: "I think the first approach in the past (was) slowly children will understand Portuguese after being exposed to Portuguese for some years. But in fact, from research and from our observations, it's not really true."
The newly-appointed vice minister for basic education spent her first months on the job visiting more than 100 schools.
After that, at her insistence, Timor finally started producing bilingual textbooks.
Now that new textbooks are rolling off the printing press, they will hopefully reach all corners of the country soon.
That day cannot come fast enough for Father Moreira.
He said: "I ask my teachers to please teach the children something before they go home, whatever the language is."
He said it is the knowledge, not language that counts.