Subject: SMH: Hope and school is in as E. Timor's children return to play

Sydney Morning Herald Saturday, April 29, 2000

Hope and school is in as children return to play

By MARK DODD, Herald Correspondent in Dili

When pro-Jakarta militias went on their rampage of arson, murder and looting in September they filled the classrooms of Dili's secondary schools with drums of fuel to ensure maximum damage when they torched 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, because most of the country's 140 secondary schools lie in ruins.

A spokesman for UNICEF, the UN Children's Fund, Mr Richard Koser said: "Higher education in East Timor has effectively stopped. About 80 per cent of the 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 who should be in school are instead part of a growing pool of dissaffected youth. East Timor's primary school system fared better, although Mr Koser said most buildings were destroyed or damaged in the violence.

"About 90 per 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.'

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

Before last August, there were about 160,000 children in 800 primary schools. At the beginning of this month about 147,000 students were back at their desks in 693 primary schools.

"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.

Under the Indonesian administration, the education system was overbloated and ineffective. Teachers, who were poorly trained and unmotivated, were teaching a national curriculum to unwilling students.

One legacy of the 24 years of Indonesian rule - the language of instruction in primary schools - will remain Indonesian, despite Portuguese objections.

Mr Koser said district-wide education committees would be set up in collaboration with the Catholic Church, the CNRT independence group and teachers.

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