Education in Timor-Leste

The UN-led transition government provided Timor-Leste the opportunity in planning and putting in place new systems. The National Development Plan (NDP) formulated through nationwide consultations in 2002 has a five-year timeframe for development planning, covering 1 July 2002 to 30 June 2007.  The NDP made education a cornerstone of its strategy for alleviating poverty and nation-building.

The NDP vision 2020 provides that "the Timor-Leste people will be well educated, healthy, highly productive, self-reliant, and espousing the values of patriotism, non-discrimination, and equity within a global context."

The NDP's goals are: to improve the education status of the people; to contribute to the improvement of the economic, social, and cultural well-being of individuals, families, and communities in Timor-Leste; and to promote gender equity and empower women in Timor-Leste. The eight key programs in education aim to:

  1. expand education access and improve internal efficiency of the school system
  2. improve the quality of education
  3. build management capacity and improve service delivery
  4. promote non-formal education and adult literacy
  5. promote Timor-Leste's culture and arts
  6. promote physical education and school sports
  7. promote youth welfare; and
  8. develop tertiary education

Literacy among those over 15 years old remains low at slightly less than 60 percent. Illiteracy prevails among nearly one-half of all adult females and about one-third of all adult males.  Between 1976 and 1999, primary education grew, but junior secondary and senior secondary education expanded much slower rate.  The younger generation has evidently attained higher levels of education than the older generation.  As of 2001, 57 percent of the adult population had little or no schooling, 23 percent had only primary education, 18 percent had secondary education, and 1.4 percent had a higher education.

In the aftermath of the 1999 emergency, 95% of schools were damaged, with four out of five schools destroyed, and almost 20 percent of primary school teachers and about 90 percent of secondary school teachers left the country. With the reconstruction efforts, the schools have reopened and a rapid increase in enrollment was evident.  In primary education, the gross enrollment ratio (GER) rose from 89 percent before the transition to 110 percent in 2001.  The net enrollment ratio (NER) rose from 51 to 70 percent.

Between 2001 and 2003, the number of primary school teachers increased from 2,992 to 4,080, and there was a corresponding fall in the pupil-teacher ratio from 67:1 to 45:1.  At the junior secondary level, the number of students increased from 29,586 to 38,180 and the number of teachers from 884 to 1,103.

The World Bank report on education noted that in order to realize the vision of the NDP, a number of challenges will need to be addressed over the next three to five years:

  1. removing barriers to increasing access, coverage, and internal efficiency
  2. raising student achievement, particularly in reading literacy and numeracy
  3. sustaining the financing of education; and
  4. strengthening sectoral management capacity.

SEAMEO and Timor-Leste

The SEAMEO Secretariat formally introduced the Organization to the Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports of Timor-Leste in 2002.  In 2004, the Timor-Leste Ministry of Education and Culture formally expressed interest in regular membership in SEAMEO.  The proposal was endorsed by the Philippines during the 40th SEAMEO Council Conference in Hanoi, Socialist Republic of Vietnam in March 2005.  Upon recommendation of the Council, the 28th SEAMEO High Officials Meeting tabled for discussion the proposal of Timor-Leste's membership.

The 28th SEAMEO HOM directed the Secretariat to initiate the process for Timor-Leste's accession for formal approval during the 41st SEAMEO Council Conference and to ensure the Ministry's willingness to participate in the SEAMEO activities.  The Ministry of Education and Culture of Timor-Leste confirmed its Government's approval of Timor-Leste's participation in the Organization's programmes and activities in March 2006.

SEAMEO, through its various units, participated in the rehabilitation efforts for Timor-Leste towards full independence in the wake of the global appeal launched by the United Nations in 1999.

The SEAMEO Regional Centre for Educational Innovation and Technology (SEAMEO INNOTECH) in the Philippines during its 43rd Governing Board Meeting sought approval for the Centre's technical assistance projects to East Timor that were meant to build on the innovative learning systems developed by the SEAMEO Centre.

In July 2002, SEAMEO INNOTECH also participated in a Fact-Finding Mission fielded by the Philippine Government with support from the Japan International Cooperation Agency.  The mission led to a technical assistance and training programme on institutional capacity building for the Continuing Education Centre of the Ministry of Education and Culture implemented by SEAMEO INNOTECH with funding from UNICEF.  The mission also introduced SEAMEO to the officials of the Ministry of Education and Culture which later culminated in a study mission to the Philippines led by H E Minister Armindo Maia, Director General Domingos de Souza and other key officials of the Ministry and UNICEF Timor-Leste.  The study mission was organised by SEAMEO INNOTECH.

Timor-Leste was also given Observer status in SEAMEO Meetings and Council Conferences since the 38th SEAMEO Council Conference held in Manila in March 2003.  Timor-Leste has participated as Observer in the 39th and 40th SEAMEO Council Conferences.

The SEAMEO Regional Centre for Graduate Studies and Research in Agriculture (SEAMEO SEARCA), with the support of DAAD, also fielded a mission to Timor-Leste to select candidates for post-graduate programmes in Agriculture and related fields under the SEARCA DAAD scholarship programme that started in 2003.

The Country and Its People

The Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste regained its independence on 20 May 2002, becoming the youngest state at the dawn of a new century.  From 1515 to 1975, the country was ruled by Portugal.  Since 1975, it became a province of Indonesia until a referendum in 1999 confirmed the movement towards independence.  In the wake of the violence following the 30 August 1999 referendum, a United Nations-administered transition government was effected through the UN Security Council Resolution 1272, adopted on 25 October 1999 which set the mandate for the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET).

The country occupies the eastern half of Timor Island which is on the south- eastern edge of the Indonesian archipelago.  It is bounded on the south by Australia.  Timor-Leste is home to 828,000 people who speak 33 indigenous languages, Portuguese, and Bahasa Indonesia.  (The World Factbook published by the US CIA places the population at 1.04 Million)  It has a predominantly agrarian economy and a per capita gross domestic product (GDP, purchasing power parity) of about $480 (The World Bank, 2004).

Timor-Leste comprises 13 administrative districts, including Dili, the national capital.  Another district, Oecussi is in the Indonesian side of Timor.  Portuguese and Tetum are the official languages, with Bahasa Indonesia and English considered as working languages.  Some 33 indigenous dialects are spoken in the various districts.

The country has a relatively young population, with 37 percent below age 14, and 60 percent of the population between age 15 to 64.

With the long struggle for independence and the violence in late 1999 the country's economy has remained largely underdeveloped.  Some 42 percent of the population live below the poverty line, with about 50 percent unemployment rate.  Agriculture accounts for about 25 percent of the GDP, while services account for 57.4 percent; industry contributed 17.2 percent as reported in 2001.

The World Bank estimated that 70 percent of the economic infrastructure of East Timor was laid waste in the wake of the 1999 emergency.  Some 300,000 people fled westward.  The UN-administered transition period, however, spurred a massive international program, of assistance. Substantial reconstruction in both urban and rural areas was undertaken.

The Government faces the major challenges of rebuilding the infrastructure, strengthening the nascent civilian governance system, and generating work for both young people entering the workforce and re-integrating the veterans of the independence struggle into civilian society.

Inflow of revenue from the oil and gas resources in the Timor Gap has begun ahead of schedule.  The technology-intensive industry, however, does little to create jobs for the unemployed.