Subject: The Age: Rebuilding Timor's Education System

The Age [Melbourne] Saturday 22 April 2000

Rebuilding Timor's education system


When pro-Jakarta militias went on their rampage of arson, murder and looting last September they filled the classrooms of Dili's secondary schools with drums of fuel to ensure maximum damage before torching the buildings.

Their efforts were mostly successful and today, apart from a handful of church-run schools, East Timor is without a secondary education system. Most of the country's 140 secondary schools lie in ruins.

Higher education in East Timor has effectively stopped, according to UNICEF.

About 80 per cent of secondary teachers were Indonesian, as were most staff of the Department of Education and the training institutes. They have left the territory and most are not expected to return.

One result has been that young East Timorese men and women, who should be in school, are instead part of a growing pool of disaffected youth.

East Timor's primary school system fared somewhat better although UNICEF spokesman Richard Koser said that most school buildings across the country were destroyed or damaged in the September violence.

"About 90per cent of school buildings were badly damaged or destroyed, and movable items were either looted or burnt. Most primary school teachers were Timorese, but most were displaced in the violence," Mr Koser said.

The damage bill runs into the millions of dollars but UNICEF has now begun a program to get the primary school system back up and running with the help of the World Bank.

Before August 1999, there were about 160,000 children in primary schools across East Timor.

By the start of this month an estimated 147,000 were students back in primary schools, and of the nearly 800 primary schools operating in East Timor before the referendum, 420 were up and running by December, a number that has now increased to 693.

"When UNICEF arrived in East Timor last September we decided one way to get some routine back in people's lives was to get the schools back up and running," Mr Koser said.

A novel incentive scheme in which primary teachers were paid a small salary and given a rice handout was a temporary measure in place until the new UN-trained East Timor Civil Service took over, he said.

Until then, UNICEF was the de facto education ministry in East Timor. The quality of teachers was questionable and no fixed curriculum had been endorsed, he added.

"There is no standard curriculum. People (teachers) are just doing what they know - reading, writing and arithmetic."

Under the Indonesian administration, the education system in East Timor was bloated and ineffective. Teachers were poorly trained and unmotivated, teaching a national curriculum to students unwilling to learn about the history and culture of Indonesia.

One legacy is left from the 24 years of Indonesian rule from 1975 until 1999 - the language of instruction in primary schools remains Indonesian, Mr Koser said.

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