Timor-Leste: Starting an education revolution

The Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste should be praised for the progress it has made since gaining independence

children in class in Timor-Leste. Credit: GPE/Lucinda Ramos

In a blog, World Bank Senior Director for Education Claudia Costin praised Fernando La Sama de Araujo, the recently deceased Minister of Education of Timor-Leste, for his visionary leadership. 

Indeed, the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste should be praised for the progress it has made since gaining independence in 2002. This is despite the fact that the country is still suffering the after-effects of a decades-long struggle for independence.

During a recent visit to Timor-Leste, we met with the Ministry of Education and other partner organizations to push for support for education.

Through a number of projects financed by the World Bank, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), and partners, thousands of classrooms have been built, teachers have been trained, and learning materials have been provided. Opportunities for out-of-school youth to re-enter the system have been implemented.

These actions have contributed to bringing children back to school. Between 2002 and 2014, enrollments have increased by 50% – from 242,000 to 364,000 students.  At the same time, the number of teachers has more than doubled to 12,000.

National efforts on education have increased dramatically: government expenditure on education went from 13% in 2004 to 25% in 2010. However, it has declined significantly to about 11% in 2014, while the current allocation for 2015 remains at the same level.

Remaining challenges of access and quality

Yet, in spite of these accomplishments, more needs be done.  There is a large access gap between urban and rural areas. For example, the gross enrollment rate at the pre-secondary and secondary level is 100% for urban residents; it is only 60% for rural households.  About 10% of children have never gone to school.

Quality issues are also a big challenge and student learning outcomes remain a serious concern.  For example, the repetition rate is high, especially among first graders.  A 2009 early grade reading assessment found that more than 70% of students at the end of Grade 1 were unable to read a single word of a simple text in Portuguese and the native Tetum language, decreasing to 40% by the end of the second grade.  Only about a third of students in the third grade could read 60 words per minute and respond correctly to simple comprehension questions.

There is a high degree of student and teacher absenteeism; More than one-third of grade 1 students, 13% of primary school teachers and 25% of secondary school teachers are absent on any given day. Teacher quality is also an issue: many teachers have completed only secondary education.

A greater focus on the curriculum

In spite of these challenges, Timor-Leste is demonstrating that it is serious about educating all of its children.  In a setting where it takes, on average, 11 years for a child to complete the first six years of education and where many drop out of the system, it is important to review the curriculum. 

Timor-Leste went on a nationally-led process to clearly define the competencies and skills that primary education institutions should help children develop. The primary school curriculum has been reformed and lessons plans (which include formative classroom assessments) have been created and are currently being distributed to schools and teachers trained on their use.

Developing a system that is conducive to learning

Completing the task of universal education is about leveling the playing field… and it’s not just all about access.  In order to educate all children, a nation requires a plan backed by evidence.

Based on analysis, Timor can benefit by reviewing its National Education Sector Plan.  The plan will need to reflect the changing context and new government priorities, such as the curriculum. 

The plan should aim to generate practices that result in improved opportunities for disadvantaged children.  It needs to align the curriculum, teacher policy, parental support, school management, inspections, assessments, system administration, data, and other elements of the school system.

The plan also needs to indicate how the system will be governed.  Multi-year operational plans that prioritize action and contain a monitoring framework with clear indicators are vital.  The curriculum roll-out, as the backbone of the system, requires these interactions to be contained in an implementation plan, so that adjustments can be made as it is implemented.

Greater investment in education needed

The Incheon Declaration, Education 2030: Towards inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all, makes a call “to increase public spending on education … and urge adherence to the international and regional benchmarks of allocating efficiently at least 4 - 6% of Gross Domestic Product and/or at least 15 - 20% of total public expenditure to education.”  Timor-Leste could consider taking steps in this direction.

Increasing education spending alone, however, is insufficient to foster educational opportunity.  One needs to understand the processes that constrain the learning opportunities of low-income children and examine carefully the evidence on the impact of existing and new interventions.

Greater policy dialogue and partnership

The task of producing sector change is fueled by dialogue. As such, sector analysis, policy formation and monitoring need to be influenced by public discussion of objectives, strategies, and results.  Timor-Leste benefits through the Ação Conjunta para a Educação em Timor-Leste (ACETL), a platform for dialogue and coordination between the government, development partners and civil society.

Creating a system that is conducive to learning and capable of offering children frequent daily opportunities to learn, think, choose and be tolerant is necessary to develop democratic citizens who can contribute to a peaceful and economically stable young nation.

The Global Partnership for Education, the World Bank Group, and other partners are ready to support Timor-Leste with the work ahead.

This blog was also published on the World Bank's Education for Global Development blog

East Asia and Pacific: Timor-Leste

Author(s)

Senior Country Operations Officer, Global Partnership for Education
Lucinda Ramos is a Country Lead at the GPE Secretariat, based in Washington DC since November 2014. Her role is to support countries such as Mozambique, Sao Tome and Principe, Tanzania, Timor Leste, and...
Manager - Education, World Bank
Harry Anthony Patrinos is a Manager at the World Bank's education sector. He specializes in all areas of education, especially school-based management, demand-side financing and public-private partnerships. He...

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