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"Education should be seen as the key to East Timor’s future. ... We believe that it is vital for ETTA and donors to listen to civil society views about the situation in education at the point of delivery, so that appropriate strategies can be devised. ... We believe that the potential for national and international NGOs to contribute human and financial resources to the education sector has yet to be fully realized. This is particularly true with the non-formal sector where civil society organizations have a special contribution to make." Forum Nacional ONG Timor Lorosa'e / The East Timor National NGO Forum

Forum Nacional ONG Timor Lorosa'e
The East Timor National NGO Forum

Kaikoli Street,  Dili-East Timor  telephone 322772/


CANBERRA June 2001

1 Introduction

Education should be seen as the key to East Timor’s future.  We should also be clear that the task of ensuring that the people of East Timor enjoy their right to education is a huge one.  This is because of the history of neglect and oppression during the last century and the destruction of 90% of all facilities in September 1999.  The task will take decades to complete.  The maximum possible resources will be needed from national and international sources. All education stakeholders need to participate in decision-making in order to decide between competing claims for scarce resources and determine realistic time-frames for development.  If this participation happens then it will be possible to achieve the social mobilisation necessary to achieve the right to education.  Mobilisation will not be achieved without ownership by the people of East Timor.

Considerable progress has been made since September 1999.  We know that UNTAET and ETTA staff at national and district level have worked tirelessly to establish a new school system in the ashes of the old.  In the primary sector, for example, the increase in primary school enrolment at the start of the school year was a significant achievement.  Steady progress has been made towards re-establishing basic primary classroom facilities. However, much remains to be done.  We know that the strong enrolment figures mask a number of negative factors affecting children’s learning in primary school.  Limited class time is one problem: most children are only in class 2-4 hours a day.  Poor attendance is another important issue.  Some children stay away from school because they have to work in order to help support the family.  Others stay at home when the exercise books and pencils provided by the Administration are used up, since their parents cannot afford to buy more.  The language transition in primary schools is also proving a significant barrier to learning at the present time.  We believe that it is vital for ETTA and donors to listen to civil society views about the situation in education at the point of delivery, so that appropriate strategies can be devised.

The major mechanism for development in the education sector has been the TFET funded Emergency School Readiness Project that focuses on primary and secondary education.  This has been complemented by bilateral funding programs and some international NGO funding. We believe that the potential for national and international NGOs to contribute human and financial resources to the education sector has yet to be fully realized.  This is particularly true with the non-formal sector where civil society organizations have a special contribution to make.

2 Education for all: international and national principles

In this briefing paper we are guided by the humanistic and democratic principles established by international and East Timorese organizations in a series of conventions and statements.

Article 28 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) declares that all children have a right to education.  It is the state’s responsibility to provide primary education free to all, drawing on international assistance where necessary to ensure this right.  Furthermore, article 2 establishes that all rights apply to all children without discrimination on grounds of gender, disability, ethnicity, religion or citizenship.

International targets to achieve the right to education were set at the World Conference on Education for All (Jomtien, 1990).  At the World Summit on Social Development (1995) a commitment was made by governments to eliminate gender disparities in education by 2005.  The targets set in 1990 were reviewed and revised in 2000 at the World Education Forum (Dakar) when an undertaking was given by governments that ‘no countries seriously committed to education for all will be thwarted in their achievement of this goal by a lack of resources.’  At Dakar governments also agreed:

‘to develop or strengthen existing national plans of action by 2002 at the latest… developed through more transparent and democratic processes, involving stakeholders, especially people’s representatives, community leaders, parents, learners, NGOs and civil society.  The plans will address problems associated with the chronic under-financing of basic education by establishing budget priorities that reflect a commitment to achieving Education For All goals and targets at the earliest possible date, and no later than 2015.’

The Magna Carta adopted at the East Timorese National Convention in the Diaspora (1998), declared acceptance of the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979) and proclaimed that an independent East Timor would promote ‘The right to a democratic education’.  Furthermore, it proclaimed that ‘the children and youth shall represent our hope in the future, and the protection and promotion of their rights shall always be a priority’.

At the CNRT National Congress, 2000, commission III recommended the creation of ‘mechanisms for the protection of the rights of women, children, the elderly and those with physical and mental disabilities’.   It also recommended that equal opportunities should be ensured ‘to both genders taking into account specific needs of women where priority must be given'.

3 Recommendations to donors

3.1 Recommendation: donors should support the development of a national vision for education via a process of consultation with stakeholders

There is a need for a defining framework for education.  A national vision and plan for education of the type promoted at the World Education Forum (see above).  In the absence of such a framework, decisions are made in response to short-term political pressure or external influences.  At present, many stakeholders feel that the sense of mission that could mobilize communities to take responsibility for development of formal and non-formal education is lacking.  The framework would specify what the priorities of the government are.  For example, we believe that initiatives should be taken to include those groups currently excluded from education and from participation in society.  Therefore, we would prioritize the provision of non-formal literacy education to women in rural areas. We believe that the vision for education should include promotion of equality for women (see section 2 above) through both formal and non-formal activities.

At present, the priorities of ETTA are not widely understood.  Such a framework for education should be developed by the future government via a process of broad consultation with civil society.  This would enable decisions to be understood and owned by the people of East Timor.  A sense of ownership is required if society is to be mobilized in the cause of education. At present, the involvement of parents, for example, in the running of schools is limited.

There should be donor coordination with civil society to ensure that programs developed via the various channels (CFET, TFET, bilateral etc.) are incorporated within the agreed framework.

Education should be seen as the key to East Timor’s future.  However, UNTAET and ETTA have not given education the prominence it deserves in their communication with the people. (At present, teachers in the districts report that they do not receive information from the district education office.)  Once the national vision is agreed there should be a massive social communication campaign to promote it.

3.2 Donors should support strategies for democratic policy formulation processes that bring government and civil society together and ensure sustainability

At the 2000 congress, the Timorese leadership in CNRT recognized the role of civil society organizations in holding governments accountable for their actions.  However, in practice, the approach taken to policy formulation under UNTAET and ETTA to date, including the donor missions, has not set a strong example of accountability to the future democratically elected government.  It is crucial that information about processes of monitoring and evaluation (undertaken by donor missions and others) be provided to civil society organizations in advance so that they can participate in a broad and meaningful way in the design of the process.  It is also essential that interpreting and translation services be provided.

We argue that all significant data of public interest collected by the Education Division- for example, gender disaggregated enrolment data- should be routinely distributed to civil society organizations in translated form so that they can participate in decision-making.  Donor mission reports- perhaps in summarized form- should also be distributed. Lack of information causes mistrust and diminishes voluntary efforts. The NGO Forum Education working group (‘the Education Forum’) can provide one channel for the flow of information.  The policy formulation process should involve civil society participation at the district level as well as the national.  Over time trust should be built between all the actors involved in nation-building.  Democratic participation can reduce the risk of short-term unsustainable practices.

3.3 Donors should support interventions to address the diversity of learning needs rather than focusing on infrastructure for the formal school system

It is understandable that in the immediate aftermath of September 1999, UNTAET/ETTA and donors should have focused their efforts on educational facility infrastructure.  However, under the future democratically elected government, we believe that donors should support initiatives by East Timor people that recognize the diversity of learning needs and offer imaginative solutions to meet them.

Access to appropriate education should be provided for excluded groups.  Poverty continues to exclude many children and adults from education- especially in rural and remote areas.  (Although UNTAET/ETTA should be applauded for pro-poor policies such as removing the requirement for school uniforms and examination fees.) Both boys and girls are excluded from school because they are required to work to contribute to the family income.

We also believe strongly that equal access to education should be provided for people with disabilities and other special needs; this includes both children and adults traumatized by the events of recent years. There is a need to support alternative education initiatives for those children who are unable to access the mainstream schooling system while also ensuring that mainstream schools are accessible to children who may be unable to attend them without support
Educational opportunities for youth must not be restricted to those able to go to university.  Youth centres providing a range of activities including skills training should be set up, with access guaranteed to both men and women.

We believe that education in East Timor should express the egalitarian and humanistic values described in the landmark documents referred to in section 2 above. If the diversity of learning needs is to be met, then NGOs and other civil society organizations- who have the required local knowledge- must take the lead.

3.4 Donors should support the participation of NGOs and civil society organizations in education programs

Direct program involvement from national and international NGOs has not been given a high priority since the Education Division was established.  We believe that an important factor in this was the enormous workload of the Division and a desire to focus on certain infrastructure priorities.  There was also a legitimate concern to ensure control of activities in the sector at a time when many organizations were wishing to engage. However, if appropriate direct program assistance is not now encouraged there will be a loss of human and financial resources to the education sector since national and international NGOs will tend to focus their activities and funds on other areas.  (It should also be remembered that many international organizations will leave or reduce their presence in future, so it is important to forge alliances now.)  Program assistance may be particularly appropriate in the non-formal sector, as described elsewhere in this paper.

3.5 Donors should support a national Early Childhood Development program involving NGOs, church groups and other civil society organizations as service providers.

School principals report that parents wish to place many children of age 4 to 5 in primary school.  They are forced to turn them away because the school system starts at age 6 and grade one classes are over-loaded.  This state of affairs shows the need to develop provision for Early Childhood Development in East Timor.  Appropriate learning methodologies focused on the needs of the child should be introduced, building on examples of existing best-practice from UNICEF, NGOs, church groups and other civil society initiatives.  Facilities appropriate to the methodology should be established.  Civil society must take the lead if significant progress is to be made in this sector.

3.6 Donors should support a national adult literacy program involving NGOs, church groups and other civil society organizations as service providers.

National NGOs have experience of adult literacy programs (going back to the 1970s) which combine reading, writing and numeracy with empowerment, in the tradition of the Brazilian educator Paolo Freire.  Civil society organizations see literacy learning as part of a wider process of strengthening the participation of marginalized groups in democratic society.  We believe that this rich experience and expertise should be incorporated in a national program of adult literacy.  Such a program should focus on closing the gender gap in literacy, as recommended by the Women’s Congress of  June 2000.

3.7 Donors should support initiatives that meet the needs of teachers

Teachers express frustration about the absence of pre-service and in-service training opportunities.  We believe that upgrading the skills of teachers cannot wait until infrastructure work is complete.  It is an urgent priority in order to improve the quality of education.  Teachers are particularly keen to receive training assistance with handling the language transition.

Teachers report that the student-teacher ratio still remains at a level that makes effective learning difficult.  Although teacher salaries have increased on the levels prior to September 1999, teachers indicate that the dramatic increase in the cost of living has eroded the value of their salaries.  Both these issues need to be addressed over the long-term through a process of dialogue and consultation between the future government and the teachers’ union.

The recruitment and placement of female teachers is a key issue. The overall percentage of women teachers in East Timor is low in all sectors and affirmative action should be taken to redress this imbalance.  As it is, women with many years of experience are being excluded from employment due to the selection process.  In a  number of sub-districts, there are no female primary school teachers.  This has a negative impact on the educational opportunities open to girls at school.  Special measures should be piloted in order to place female teachers in the sub-districts affected.

Teachers report that furniture provision remains generally poor and has a very negative impact on learning.  This is despite the fact that some progress has been made in the distribution of furniture.  Similarly, there are serious gaps remaining in the provision of text-books and other learning resources.  Strategies such as resource centres need to be devised in order to meet these needs.

East Timor National NGO Forum / Forum Nacional ONG Timor Lorosa'e  Updated June 14
Umbrella agency for East Timorese Non-Government Organisations (NGOs)
VISION: To contribute to the building of a pluralist, democratic, just and sustainable East Timor through the development of a strong, independent and responsible civil society committed to upholding and making real in the daily life of the community, both village and urban, the full range of human rights so that all East Timorese, particularly the poor and disadvantaged, can enjoy the fruits of liberation and development in an East Timor forever free.
MISSION: To realise its vision by promoting a culture of learning, cooperation, partnership with the community and respect for human rights and good practice amongst East Timorese NGOs and between them and other development actors, both domestic and international, and by serving as a collective, independent voice for the rights and needs of the community.
VALUES AND PRINCIPLES: a rights approach to development; inclusiveness, participation; accountability; gender balance; respect for the environment; non-party political; non-sectarian; good governance; volunteerism.
Kaikoli Street, Dili-East Timor  Telephone +670(390)322772
E-mail:  Homepage:
Jun 7 ETNGO Forum: Donors Meeting must be for Rural People:
Jun 13 ETNGO Forum: The voice of Civil Society calls the Donors:

BD: East Timor National NGO Forum / Forum Nacional ONG Timor Lorosa'e - A collection of recent media releases, position-statements, speeches, petitions, reports, and news

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