Community pre-school lays the foundation for quality education for every child
“Making early learning a priority among communities in Timor-Leste”
Ermera, 17th July 2023 - Titibuti village lies off the main road from Dili to Ermera Municipality. The road leading to the village is lined with vast coffee plantations, where inhabitants of the village spend long hours harvesting coffee beans to raise wages to sustain their families. As a child growing up in Titibuti, Almeria dos Santos’ daily routine included accompanying her parents on a long walk to these plantations and spending the whole day waiting for them to finish their daily assignment and then head back home.
“There was no preschool in Titibuti until 2015, parents were afraid of leaving their children at home alone, so there was no choice but to accompany them to the plantations,” says Almeria, who is now a facilitator at a beautifully built community preschool in Titibuti.
“The first time I went to school was in Grade One. I felt afraid and uncomfortable around other children because I was not used to such an environment,” says Almeria, who is happy to be giving children a learning experience which she never received.
“I joined the preschool in 2015 as a volunteer facilitator immediately after this school was established. Since then, I have seen it grow,” says Almeria as she prepares to start her day at this preschool, which now symbolises the community’s hopes, dreams, and aspirations for quality education for their children.
Like many communities across Timor-Leste, preschool education is not prioritised and many children go straight into a grade one class when they turn six years old. Only 27 per cent of children across Timor-Leste have been enrolled in preschool. In Ermera, the preschool enrollment is only 18 per cent, which is much lower than national average. Most of these children struggle in grade one and are often required to repeat the first grade.
As a volunteer at the preschool, Almeria’s task is to help children from Titibuti to have their first experience of learning, while having fun in a safe and clean environment. From keeping the school environment neat and well decorated with colourful images, to leading the children in the reciting of melodious nursey rhymes, singing and playing different games, Almeria has now helped hundreds of children to positively stimulate their brains and prepare them for a better future.
“Enrolment during the early days was low, with only 22 children who came to learn at this preschool, but today, there are 46 children who come to this preschool to learn from Monday to Friday” says Almeria, as she explains the steady growth of the preschool.
Thanks to support from New Zealand Aid Programme, through UNICEF New Zealand, and other donors, the Community-based preschool in Titibuti now stands as a positive example of how teachers, communities and families are coming together to enhance their children’s readiness for school.
Since 2019, UNICEF, in partnership with Alola Foundation, has worked closely with the community to refurbish an old building which is in the heart of the village, and turning it into a preschool.
Every year, facilitators like Almeria receive training on how to provide quality learning to the children, who are aged between three and five years of age, based on the national curriculum, especially on teaching basic literacy and numeracy. During the five-day training, Almeria and other facilitators are taught new and improved teaching methodologies, including lessons on how to use activities, songs and illustrations to teach the children. The facilitators are also taught positive ways to calm and discipline the children.
This year, training was conducted in partnership with National Institute for Training of Teachers (INFORDEPE), Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA) from New Zealand and Alola Foundation and it has helped Almeria to improve her skills, competencies, and confidence to teach children at the preschool.
“I did not have enough knowledge and skill to teach children when I first came to teach the children at this preschool. At that time, I just facilitated the children to play, sing and dance,” says Almeria who has now moved from using her natural knowledge and skills to teach the children at school, and now knows how to plan structured lessons for each day.
Almeria is happy with the good performance of students who leave the preschool for Grade One. There is less repetition from them, and they can easily make friends and fit in with the school environment. Because of these positive results, parents are now even more confident about enrolling their children at the preschool.
“I love to teach children. Because they are our young brothers and sisters from our community. Meeting them every day at this preschool makes me think creatively. And of course, I still need more training to empower myself so that I can provide better services for children at this preschool.” says Almeria.