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DILI, TIMOR-LESTE, 16 August 2012 - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown, and Director-General of UNESCO Irina Bokova today visited Cassait School in Liquisá district, Timor-Leste.
It was part of the Secretary-General’s preparations for the UN’s new ‘Education First’ initiative, which will be launched on 26 September, and Mr Brown’s first overseas trip in his new role. The Secretary-General presented the school with a UNICEF ‘school-in-a-box’ kit, containing basic education supplies, and the students gave him a traditionally-made model boat.
The delegation watched a song and dance performance by school children and visited classrooms, where the Secretary-General read to the children.
The school has received support from UNICEF to become child-friendly. Working with the Ministry of Education and other partners, UNICEF has constructed school buildings, trained teachers and parents in the child rights-led approach to education, and provided teaching materials for the school. Children are taught both about child rights and about the responsibilities that come with those rights. UNICEF has also helped create a healthy environment for children, including building water pumps and latrines.
Since the school joined the Child Friendly School programme in 2009, enrolment has increased by 11 per cent and the retention rate by 4 per cent (from 71 to 75 per cent). There is now a student association and several student clubs. Students have planted and maintained flower gardens and traditional houses around the school. The style of teaching is more interactive, even down to the layout of classrooms. Students now sit together in groups, rather than in a line facing the front.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “Coming here takes me back 50 or 60 years to my own childhood. When I was six, the Korean War broke out and all the classrooms were destroyed by war. We studied under the trees or in whatever buildings were left. I look around this school and see all the classrooms. You are better off than I was! I see children and young people with great hope for the future. Education promotes equality and lifts people out of poverty. It teaches children how to become good citizens. Education is not just for a privileged few, it is for everyone. It is a fundamental human right.”
Gordon Brown said: “I can think of no better place in the world to launch our new education initiative than this school. You have faced so many struggles in Timor-Leste. This year we mark the tenth anniversary of your independence. It is a great achievement that in Timor-Leste, 90 per cent of children enter primary school. But we want it to be 100 per cent. It is a great achievement that in Timor-Leste, 65 per cent of children are completing primary school. But we want it to be 100 per cent. My task will not have succeeded unless by 2015 we have every child in Timor-Leste finishing primary school.”
Education Minister Bendito Freitas said: “We all recognise that the UN has played a key role in Timor-Leste, since the early days of our national struggle. We are aware that education is the key to improving the life opportunities of our people. Our school director, teachers and students’ daily work is the key driver of change in the development of our education system.”
UNICEF Timor-Leste Representative Hongwei Gao said: “We are very happy to have the UN Secretary-General and Special Envoy on Global Education visit one of the schools here in Timor-Leste. UNICEF is working closely with the Education Ministry and other partners to ensure that this school, along with many others, is child-friendly. This means that children have a safe, nurturing and caring environment in which they can learn and play. There are still many challenges such as the lack of text books, qualified teachers and good school buildings. I am pleased that the Secretary-General has reiterated the need for all children in the world to have good quality education.”
School Principal Geraldo Soares Riberio said: “We have to care for our children and pay attention to them. Before, we used a traditional approach. The teacher was at the centre and did all the talking. Now we have a new methodology. The students are more active, there are group discussions and the teacher summarizes at the end.” Fifteen-year-old student Jamantino said: “I feel proud that Ban Ki-moon came to visit our school today. I like this school, the teachers are nice. My favourite subject is English because it’s an international language. My family are cassava farmers. We live some distance away – about 30 minutes’ walk. When I grow up, I want to be a good man for the future of my nation.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown and Directo-General of UNESCO Irina Bokova are in Timor-Leste on an official visit from 15 to 16 August 2012.
About UNICEF UNICEF works in 190 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit: www.unicef.org