Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Challenges in the Education System

S I S T E R R I T A ’ S L E T T E R 2011


Challenges in the Education System

Difficult Transition from High School to University

Our Class 3 students sat for the senior secondary national exam in October and recently received their results. They are still waiting to receive their official certificate without which they are unable to enter University. I really feel for them. Not only was the exam brought forward from November to October with only a few weeks’ notice but they have had the long wait for results and they keep coming to school every day hoping that their certificates have arrived. Af ter the results had been announced the national university, (UNTL) and the only one subsidized by the Government, changed its entrance requirements. The minimum score was raised to 30 or higher and only 2010 school graduates would be accepted for enrolment. Anyone who had allowed a year or more to elapse between completion of secondary schooling and application for university would not be accepted. This was a big blow to many, including some of our students, who had taken a year off to either work on the family farm or to try and gain some money to help with either further education or their family. There has been a follow-on effect also: the private, and much more expensive universities, now have many more applications from students who had graduated from schools prior to 2010 and have earned some money to pay fees. 2010 graduates who missed out on entrance to UNTL found the only faculties available to them were civil engineering and nursing. While both professions are important it is sad to see students taking them because there is nothing else available.

Inequities in the Local Education System

The marks students gain in their final exams are quite perplexing. Secondary teachers correct the papers and swap schools within their District for this purpose. However, they know the school whose students’ papers they are correcting. This leaves an avenue for corruption wide open! While there is no proof of this happening there are plenty of rumours! Certainly, we are often amazed at the quality of the students who do well and vice versa. Some of the private universities are now conducting their own entrance examinations but the results of these are even more bewildering! I am so pleased that donations to our scholarship programme are enabling all students, who apply, to undertake some tertiary course. During these past two weeks, right up until the evening before I had to leave for Australia, students were coming to request funds. One has to admire their tenacity. Obtaining enrolment often requires them taking a trip to Dili, trudging from tertiary institute to tertiary institute, trying to get back from Dili in the pouring rain, receiving the necessary funds and then returning to Dili, hitching a ride if the microlets are too full or not running. If they would only channel this determination, persistence and motivation into their school studies!


Frustrating at times, but a rewarding year for us all . .

The above scenario of the frustrations of the Timorese education ‘system’ fade in comparison to other challenges to be faced this year. Class 3 students have to be taught in Portuguese (presumably having been taught in Portuguese right through every class until this one!!!). The teachers are still learning Portuguese during the school ‘holidays’. These past holidays they were to have training in their particular subject area in Portuguese. Our Economics teacher related to me that when he asked the ‘trainer’ an economic question the reply was that the trainer didn’t know anything about economics he just spoke Portuguese! In our school, which is typical in many ways to schools in the Districts and to many in Dili, the teachers had undertaken their own education in Indonesian. They are acquiring Portuguese inadequately, and with little motivation, from poorly equipped ‘teachers’ of Portuguese. There are still no text books in Portuguese for Class 3. The present cohort of students have not acquired Indonesian and their level of Portuguese would vary little in quality and scope from that of their teachers. The Class 3 teachers described their class procedure, with some sense of humour, as that of teachers using Indonesian text books, which they explain in Tetun to their students to prepare them for subject examinations in Portuguese! When teachers are asked why they don’t revolt they reply that they are scared of losing their contract teaching salary from the Government. That, I think, is almost the saddest part of all.

While I am conscious that this letter is a little late in coming I am doing better than the Ministry for Education – two weeks after school starting we still don’t have a school calendar giving us the official school starting date!

For the Railaco Mission Team