In Timor-Leste, appreciation of education is almost universal. The population and government alike see education in all its forms as key to a brighter future. As often happens in a young nation and government emerging from a traumatic past, many systems are trialled and improved upon to find the best structure for the people’s needs. Sam Haddin, volunteer teacher in Bedois, Dili writes of the latest improvement for education, a new Curriculum to increase both student and teacher engagement.
Recently, Timor Leste’s Ministry of Education introduced a new curriculum to be implemented in all schools throughout Timor. The new curriculum is for grades 1 and 2, with the curriculum for grades 3 – 6 to be introduced in the near future. The new curriculum is very robust and employs many current teaching techniques for each KLA (Key Learning Area).
Every lesson plan for every lesson that needs to be taught for each KLA is included in the new curriculum, along with stipulations about catering for children with special needs, classroom management and discipline and many other day-to-day happenings within the school environment.
Many Australian teachers would, undoubtedly, find this curriculum very rigid and too prescriptive, not really allowing for any flexibility and, therefore, being quite restrictive. However, the reality of the educational situation in Timor Leste is that many teachers, for various reasons, have not had the benefit of teacher-training as we know it. To us, the majority of teaching practice here in Timor appears rather archaic – large classes of children sitting in rows, lots of copying from the board, few open ended questions, plenty of rote learning. This, coupled with an old curriculum that wasn’t teacher or student friendly, has meant that the quality of education, on all levels, has suffered.
However, times are changing.
The Timor Leste government has recognised the importance of education for the future of its nation, and the introduction of the new curriculum is the first step in the journey towards improving education standards.
The new curriculum encourages a shift in educational thinking and doing. Teachers are encouraged to engage the children in pair and group work, ask open-ended questions, implement ongoing assessment, shorten the length of lessons, as well as many other positive pedagogical changes.
The challenge lies in the teachers receiving enough support to be able to effect these changes fittingly. We, as volunteers, have been working closely with the teachers of our schools to help them understand what the new curriculum requires of them professionally and to support them in implementing the skills that the curriculum requires, many of which they have had little experience in. Practical skills like reducing the duration of a lesson from one and a half hours to fifty minutes, and more technical skills such as using different resources as teaching aids, are skills which the teachers are developing, with our support, to ensure that they not only teach the new curriculum properly, but also that the children they teach enjoy learning and get the most out of their educational experience.
As with any major change, it will take time for the effects of the new curriculum to be consistently seen in the classrooms of Timor Leste. It is a huge undertaking to change years and years of institutionalised practice and the Ministry of Education and, more importantly, the teachers tasked with this undertaking should be lauded for taking up the challenge.