Helping a young nation grow

There are mixed influences from different education systems such as Portuguese and Indonesian systems, which focus on the teacher talking for most of the time with students listening.

Australians often take receiving an education or having a school close by for granted, IE Journalist Alex Leggett writes.

For developing countries such as our close neighbour, Timor Leste (East Timor), its residents are still coming to terms with rebuilding their education system and schools after violent conflict razed much of the country’s infrastructure during its fight for independence in 1999. Earlier this year, two graduate teachers from Timor Leste visited staff and students at St Agnes Catholic Primary School in Brisbane’s south, where they learnt new practices and training so they could open their first school with a prep class in the remote town of Gari-uai in the country’s north-east.

After graduating from the Catholic Teachers College in Baucau, Jovita Freitas Ximenes and Sonia da Silva Belo arrived at St Agnes in April to observe and learn from Australian teachers and receive training to teach about 45 students at the new school.

Loreto Sister Diaan Stuart, who accompanied the pair during their visit, has travelled to Timor to help open the school – Loreto Gari-uai School. She says the project aims to help improve the education standards in the country and allow more opportunities for people to have a quality education.

St Agnes Principal Rick Sheehan said the project was such a success they would look to do it again in the near future.

“It was such a great experience we are now in the process of organising for a young male teacher from the same area to come out later in the year,”he said.

Enrolments are growing and the new school at Gari-uai will soon expand to include Years 1 and 2. As a result, there will be a need for more teachers who understand a child centred approach to teaching and learning.

Mr Sheehan said the key is training Timor Leste’s new teachers to equip them with the tools to develop basic school systems and improve national literacy rates for future generations.

During their stay at St Agnes, Jovita and Sonia found one of the main differences in the teaching methods was less talking from the teacher and more class participation, allowing students to share their thoughts and learning through engagement and interaction.

“There are mixed influences from different education systems such as Portuguese and Indonesian systems, which focus on the teacher talking for most of the time with students listening,” he said.

“Sister Stuart has been working in Timor Leste for over 10 years and has already established a crèche there. Some years ago we had another young Timorese teacher who spent a term with us to see how we operated in prep, and then she went back to establish the crèche.”

For this new project in Gari-uai, St Agnes and the Loreto Sisters entered a partnership with Brisbane Catholic Education and received approval and support from its Executive Director Pam Betts.

“Sister Stuart wanted the young teachers to experience Australian contemporary childhood centres and see more creative ways of teaching and learning. She asked us if we would have the young teachers here for a period of time, so they could observe good child-centred teaching practice,” Mr Sheehan said.

As for the school’s construction, it has begun its life as a shed - donated and refurbished by local villagers under the direction of the Loreto Sisters. It is in the process of being upgraded with more sections to be added in 2016. By building schools for remote communities in need, the Loreto Sisters, St Agnes’ and Brisbane Catholic Education have committed to furthering the education of many East Timorese people into the future.