Student Teachers Share Skills and Passion in Timor-Leste

Student Teachers Share Skills and Passion in Timor-Leste

Monica Morrison, now well into her second Timor-Leste placement at Catholic Teachers College, Baucau, reports on the student-teachers she has mentored and their passion to pass on the skills they have gained to their peers and future generations-.

I feel very privileged to have a new work space, which is not very typical of volunteer placements at all. However when I go home I am reminded I am in Timor-Leste. This morning I had an infestation of ants running around my bathroom especially around, on, and in the toilet. During the night I had a few wandering in the bed as well. Tokki (gekko) droppings on the pillow are common and the odd rat in the kitchen as well. It is remarkable that we manage to stay reasonably healthy, washing up in cold water and all…

The students have varying topics and schools which I am pleased about. Agata chose a small rural school built by Alola with which she has a connection. They have a small number of students but a third do not attend well and drop out before Year 6, so her proposal is to improve attendance by involving the parents more and having them understand the importance of continuity of education. They wanted the school so they must help support it otherwise it will be no longer viable. There are heaps of good issues there… gender equity, child labour, agricultural workers and so on. She says the staff are well trained so that is not the issue and she has some very good ideas of how to involve the parents and community in non-threatening ways.

Pedro who came out of the seminary, chose to address the lack of collaboration and unity of staff in a large school in Newtown (Baucau) of over a thousand students. He intends to do a values clarification exercise with staff to develop a sense of shared values of teaching as a profession, and to improve staff wellbeing for the ultimate benefit of students.

Joaquina is doing a Dengue Prevention program in collaboration with outside agencies to improve physical wellbeing and attendance. It will include curriculum intervention and training of parents similar to the Red Cross program in Dili earlier in the year. John Mariano is also doing parent involvement but this time in the early years of schooling, so his proposal will be to start a transition process from preschools and the homes to engage parents early, to have them realise their role and responsibilities and of course to make the students and parents welcome. They have nothing like that here. In fact wellbeing only vaguely appears in the new curriculum. His school is also in Newtown and he says there is a core of young parents who are interested (I think he is one of them).

Victor who usually gets distinctions, wants to improve social and emotional teaching skills by setting up a peer observation process for teachers. They do it here in the college with each other, so he is familiar with how it works. It is a bit ambitious as they know little of how to build social and emotional skills, but he will work it out with appropriate training and criteria from his earlier research. His school is run by the Ursulines who are cooperative, and has only Grades 1, 2 and 3.
Silvanio chose a large school in Dili which is subject to vandalism and much violence amongst student groups so he will attempt to set up restorative practices. I told him to talk to Brother Tony who is familiar with it from the Marist Youth centre and if I ask him nicely Tony might mentor Silvanio the whole way.

Finally Juvinalia will do a project of turning just one classroom “From compliance to a learning community”. She is very passionate about the processes of child centred, cooperative learning. Her school is in Gari’aui and she says there is a core of trained teachers there with a Director who wants to try new ways.

We are busy now looking up the evidence based research for them as they won’t have the net until they move into the new building. The library closes on Friday just when the undergrads have assignments due.

Morning coffee calls!



When looking at formal education and its role in developing nations, volunteers often find a very mixed bag. A government may seek some form of status by adopting wholesale the curriculum of a developed nation such as the UK or New Zealand, thus setting an artificial ‘standard’ which the intended beneficiaries cannot attain. The students ‘fail’ not through inability or lack of effort, but simply because they struggle with a syllabus which has little relevance to their lives or the potential employment available to them. Conversely, a local community may use a grass-roots approach where children are (initially) taught in their own language with strong emphasis on their own environment and culture. This model has already proven successful in providing children with basic literacy and numeracy, yet it perhaps has its limitations of outlook and is rarely recognised as a step toward further study. Again there is the rise of technical and vocational schools, usually supported by NGOs, which aim to directly address the communities’ needs/aspirations and provide favourable opportunities. The different approaches often exist within single communities and provide food for thought:

  • Both Carmel and Louisa have noted the challenge faced by students in Ofolaco, South Africa. How does this compare to Monica’s report of student teachers in Timor Leste?
  • The Timorese student-teachers percieve issues in their own system and seek to address them. Can this have its own challenges?