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Skills for All as Timor-Lestes initial response to SDG 4

Helen M Hill, Profesora Convidada, Universidade Nacional Timor Loro Sae

The RDTL (Republica Democrtica Timor-Leste), is a half-island nation situated between


Asia and the Pacific with a population of 1.3 million a large proportion of whom are
subsistence farmers. It became independent in 2002 and has the highest birth-rate in the
region. For 24 years Timor-Leste had been militarily occupied by its giant neighbour,
Indonesia after the Portuguese indicated their desire to de-colonize in 1975. The education
systems of its former ruling powers still have a great deal of influence, but the Sustainable
Development Goals have, in some sense, given Timor an impetus to move in a new
direction educationally and one in which it may lead the world in skills development in
primary education.

As a representative of conflict-affected countries and a founding member of the g7++ of


fragile states, Timor-Leste played a role in shaping the new global agenda, particularly in
advocating for the inclusion of Goal 16 to Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for
sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build, effective, accountable
and inclusive institutions at all levels. And Timorese Prime Minister, Dr Rui Araujo, a
medical doctor who studied in Indonesia and New Zealand, has enthusiastically embraced
all the SDGs. In New York, at their launch, he joined eight other leaders, the Presidents and
Prime Ministers of Brazil, Columbia, Germany, Liberia, South Africa, Sweden, Tanzania and
Tunisia to form the High-Level Group on SDG Implementation, notably the only country from
Asia or the Pacific to do so.

But it is probably on Goal 4, on Education, that Timor-Leste has moved on fastest, with its
new Primary School curriculum which includes Permaculture/Agroecology principles taught
in school gardens in the early rears in every school, followed by cuisine and nutrition
beginning at year 4. (Lemos 2016). This was a result of advocacy by a small Timorese NGO
that has been teaching such courses at youth camps and advocating for sustainable
practices in agriculture since 2002. Prime Minister Rui Araujo himself at a university
conference in July 2015 had pointed to one of the main deficiencies of the Timorese
education system as being the major disconnect between what is taught in school and its
application in daily life. At a conference on World Teachers Day 12th October 2016, in Dili,
he emphasized the importance of the application of knowledge, telling hundreds of teachers

Education is a right that is enshrined in our Constitution and that is unquestionably


essential to the development of any country. Education teaches students and trains
them to apply their new knowledge, so that they may contribute to the various fields
of the development of Timor-Leste.
As such, Education must be regarded as more than the transmission of scientific
contents. It must be regarded beyond the theoretical knowledge we transmit to our
students. This acknowledgement must start with teachers, since it is on your
shoulders that rests the rewarding task of educating our students (Araujo 2016).

Vice-Minister Dulce de Jesus Soares, had already assembled a formidable team of advisors,
both International and Timorese, to re-rewrite the curriculum for the whole of Basic
Education (up to Year 9). The previous curriculum, in which basic literacy was in
Portuguese, had proved a failure as too many students were being left behind. The new
curriculum brings in Tetum (a creole and a major lingua franca) as the medium of instruction
in Primary school and for initial literacy, with Portuguese being introduced at Year 4. This
means that students do not have to wait until they have learned Portuguese to begin
learning science, art, culture, mathematics etc. and the SDGs provided a large impetus to
include environment and climate change in the curriculum. Vice-Minister Soares had hired
Eugenio Lemos, one of Timor-Lestes leading singers, to adviser her on the Art and Culture
component of the curriculum, as also the Founder of PERMATIL, (Permaculture Timor-
Leste), he also recommended the introduction of a school garden in each primary school to
use as a living laboratory to teach principles of sustainability alongside, biology,
mathematics and good work habits, while cultivating fruit and vegetables and learning how
to cook a nutritious meal. In late 2015, the Council of Ministers approved a new curriculum
which included the construction of food gardens in all Basic schools (up to year 9).

Further up the school, in years 5-9, a participatory science curriculum has been developed
which introduces students to principles of physics, chemistry and biology using easily
available materials for experimentation (Gabrielson 2016). Although these reforms only go
to year 9 at present, they will prepare students with many of the life skills needed to address
Timor-Lestes major problems such as soil, water, energy, nutrition, sanitation and health as
well as giving them improved language skills and the ability to grow food. These skills will not
be forgotten and the idea of using the Education sector to power the achievement of other
SDGs should not be difficult for Timor-Leste.

Araujo, Rui (2016), Education as a Cornerstone for Building Democratic Values address to
the Seminar on The Role of the Educational System and Teachers in the National Identity
Building Process celebrating World Teachers Day, 12th October
http://timor-leste.gov.tl/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Education-as-a-Cornerstone-for-
Building-Democratic-Values_12.10.2016.pdf

Gabrielson, Curt (2016), Timorpratika, Science and Mathematics Education in Timor-Leste,


https://timorpratika.wordpress.com

Lemos, Eugenio (2016), Permaculture/Agroecology system in Timor-Leste National School


Curriculum for Basic Education http://www.fao.org/family-farming/detail/en/c/425624/

Keywords, Timor-Leste, Permaculture, curriculum

Timor-Leste has been quick to introduce a new curriculum which brings skills training in food
growing and cuisine into the classroom partly as s response to the Sustainable Development
Goals.