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Back to school campaign in Timor-Leste ready for roll out

Back to school campaign in Timor-Leste
© UNICEF/ETMR00079/Alves
Students are singing during the launch of Back to School Campaign ceremony at Farol Primary School in Timor-Leste

DILI, 1 September 2006

Timor-Leste’s Ministry of Education and Culture and UNICEF will launch a nationwide ‘Back to School’ campaign on Monday 4 September to encourage over 200,000 children to resume formal education at the start of a new school year.

The two-month campaign is targeting all of Timor-Leste’s primary school pupils and teachers and involves the reopening of more than 100 schools in Dili, some of which have been closed since civil unrest engulfed the capital in late May.  

The violence, which sparked a humanitarian crisis leading to the displacement of up to 15 cent of the population, brought education to a standstill for an estimated 30,000 primary school children in the capital. The crisis has also affected learning for tens of thousands of others in classes throughout the country.

The resumption of formal education is a pivotal step in the process of restoring a sense of normality for girls and boys who were already enrolled in school and whose lives have been deeply affected by Timor-Leste’s political and social upheaval.

“The importance of getting children back to school cannot be overemphasized,” UNICEF Timor-Leste Representative Shui-Meng said. “It means the return to a routine that provides structure, and it means familiarity and comfort for children who have lived through tremendous turmoil over the last few months.”

The campaign is going ahead despite continuing uncertainty, with fears of violence still running deep among families living in internally displaced people’s camps and those still in their homes. Safety concerns kept many parents from sending their children back to school in July when some schools in the capital reopened to stage year-end exams.  At least 10 schools were damaged in the violence.

“Education is a basic right of all children, even in emergencies. We, as adults, mustn’t deny their right to develop and acquire skills, knowledge and the ability for a better future,” said Rosalia Corte-Real, Minister of Education and Culture.  The Minister appealed to communities to actively support children return to school.

The ‘Back to School’ campaign will directly solicit the help of communities. During September and October, national and local radio and television talk shows, and a TV programme and newspaper dedicated to children will highlight the campaign and the importance of education.

Over the past few months, around 1,200 teachers fled Dili for the outlying districts – part of a wave of almost 80,000 men, women and children who left the capital seeking safety. Many of the teachers are now working in schools in the districts, where an influx of displaced children has created serious shortages, overcrowding and pressure on already limited hygiene facilities.  The mass displacement has brought the reality of the crisis to very many classrooms.
Even before the emergency, Timor-Leste faced tremendous challenges in education. One child in three does not enroll in primary school and literacy rates are low compared with other countries in the region.  Yet efforts to rebuild a system based on a ‘learning-friendly’ environment had started to show real gains over the past few years, with the Government, supported by UNICEF and other partners, committed to the development and roll-out of a new primary school curriculum for all grades.

UNICEF is a member of the Timorese Government’s working group on education, part of the overall inter-agency humanitarian group established in the wake of the civil unrest to coordinate an emergency response. In many of Dili’s IDP camps, where an estimated 75,000 people continue to seek shelter, temporary learning spaces were created, enabling children to join in activities such as drawing, singing and playing.

The ‘Back to School’ campaign will cost US$1.1 million, with Sweden’s SIDA providing US$667,000.


For more information, please contact:

Madhavi Ashok, Communication Officer, UNICEF Timor-Leste, HP: +670 723 1103
Peter Ninnes, Project OfficerEducation, UNICEF Timor-Leste, HP: +670 727 2952



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