Education through teacher peer learning in Timor-Leste

Strengthening education through teacher peer learning in Timor-Leste

UNICEF Timor-Leste
education through teacher peer
UNICEF Timor-Leste/2018/Soares
21 March 2019

Education is a constitutional right in Timor-Leste. But in a country still rebuilding its education system, getting children into classrooms is only half the story. Now, see how the Ministry of Education with UNICEF’s support is strengthening teachers and leaders and communities for a stronger school system for all.

With a grin stretching across her face, Sister Maria de Carvalho opens the school’s front gate. “Come in,” she says excitedly, welcoming a group of visitors who are on a special visit to her school.

As the group of nine teachers enter the school grounds of Eskola Pre-Sekondaria (EPS) Santa Magdalena Cannossa Pre-Secondary School, the sense of excitement is very palpable. When sister Maria spoke, everyone listened intently.

“The teachers have so many questions!” Sister Maria says, happy to respond to all the queries.

Sister Maria is the director of EPS Cannossa. The school is hosting a group of teachers from three public schools in rural Timor-Leste to Dili, the country’s capital.

The group are here to observe and learn from the teachers and school principal of EPS Cannossa, as a well-resourced private school. The visit is part of a Ministry of Education-led program, designed and implemented with the support of UNICEF, to improve teachers’ and school leaders’ skills and strengthen school governance.

Designed to build on the strong legislative and policy steps taken in recent years by the Ministry of Education, this teacher peer learning session is one small part of a comprehensive programme of school capacity development designed with reference to the principles of Eskola Foun—the childfriendly school approach that improved access to and quality of primary and pre-secondary education across Timor-Leste.

Peer connections key for strong schools

This teacher peer exchange recognises that while significant progress has been made with the development of strong national education policies in Timor-Leste, it is at the local level where changes to education is truly realised. By building the capacity of school teachers and leaders – principals and their deputies - and encouraging greater participation from communities, this programme of school development builds on the child-centred Eskola Foun approach to promote safe, healthy and inclusive school environments in which students can reach their full potential. 

“There are many good things happening in Timor-Leste’s schools. Through this peer exchange, we hope teachers and school coordinators learn from each other. They can then design and decide for themselves what improvements they want to do in their schools and in their teaching approaches,”
Leotes Lugo Helin, UNICEF Timor-Leste Chief of Education says.

peer education 2
UNICEF Timor-Leste/2018/Amin
A child centred approach changes the learning environment.

The exchange also facilitates public-private schools cross learning, something that is not yet established in the country. In 2018, the Ministry of Education and UNICEF published the “Documentation of Good Practices and Lessons Learned in Church-run, Private and Public Schools” report to provide more insights into Timor-Leste schooling system. The exchange visits among schools held in October allowed for teachers and school leaders to see for themselves these good practices.

Teachers learning to improve their own classrooms

“What does the student council talk about in its meetings?”; “How do you handle a class of 60 students?”; “What are your class guidelines and how do you apply them?”; “Why is the head of the student council male?”

Teachers from Caitehu Filial School, Casait Basic Education Central School, and Matata Filial School spent the morning asking questions of teachers, students and school leaders of EPS Cannossa – learning new ideas and approaches for classroom and school management, and sharing experiences of their own.

School exchange visits like the visit to EPS Cannossa are part of a holistic programme designed to strengthen core aspects of a child’s learning environment—improving school governance and management, encouraging deeper community and parent participation, building teachers’ and school leaders’ skills and ensuring the school environment is safe, healthy, protective and inclusive for all learners.

The programme hopes that teachers and school leaders can learn from good practises in schools like Cannossa—and if today’s visit is any indication, it’s working.

peer education3
UNICEF Timor-Leste/2018
Teachers and school leaders from selected public schools in Ermera and Liquica visit the Eskola Pre- Sekondaria Cannossa School in Dili to learn about good practices.

Lurdes Gonçalves, a fifth-grade teacher from Matata, says that she plans on asking her school coordinator which of the techniques she’s observed in Cannossa she can implement in her classroom as a result of the observation. “We need to seek to learn more to develop our own schools,” she says. “We must have a dialogue and be consultative.” 

Lurdes is no stranger to participatory teaching approaches—EBF Matata has been working with Eskola Foun for eight years. When we visited Lurdes’ quiet, brightly-lit classroom in Timor-Leste’s coffeegrowing Ermera Municipality earlier this year, she described how her teaching had changed after
implementing Eskola Foun’s child-centred teaching strategies.

“In the past, we just copied how we were taught when we were small children,” she said. “We didn’t know an alternative. The teacher just wrote, and students copied, and we didn’t ask if they understood or not. But now, it’s much better. Students are free, it’s democratic, they can share ideas, and if I’m wrong they’re not scared to correct me. Compared to the past when they were just quiet, just listening. But now it’s not like that!” And that’s the point.

Here, Lurdes has the opportunity to show other teachers what she’s doing in her classroom, learn together with others, and compare her experience to that in a different context—
giving her ideas and strategies to apply in her classroom, and using today to help other teachers see how they may do things in their public schools.

“I see that some of these other schools do reflection and talk about what they’re doing and what they need to do,” says Elio da Silva, a fourth-grade teacher from Casait Basic Education Central School in Liquica Municipality. “And there are two teachers in each classroom; one to lead and one to help manage students. When I go back [to our school], I will talk with my school director about what we can implement based on the situation in our school.” 

School leaders also had the opportunity to participate in training, with Matata school coordinator Manuel Salsinha joining two teachers on the exchange visit.

“We people in the mountains must open our eyes,” he says with a grin. Manuel observed that at Cannossa School, children who cause trouble are reprimanded by being asked to sit alone and reflect on their behaviour, not with the corporal punishment traditionally common in Timor-Leste.

Model schools for the future

Between June and December 2018 teacher training and governance training will be conducted in five basic schools in Ainaro and Ermera municipalities, with the aim of reaching teachers and school leaders in 17 basic education schools in four of Timor-Leste’s 13 municipalities. 

To complement the peer exchange, teachers from 35 basic education schools in Ermera, Ainaro and Liquica Municipalities were trained between June to December 2018 on school management, improving teaching-learning in line with the curriculum, including creating a nurturing learning environment, and engagement of parents and families. The 182 teachers who received the training will serve as peer mentors for other public schools in their municipalities.

peer education4
UNICEF Timor-Leste/2018/Amin
Lurdes Gonçalves, a fifth-grade teacher from Matata helping her student in learning.

It is hoped that in the near future, these 35 schools will become models for other schools offering a crucial opportunity for Timor-Leste’s schools to work together, learn from one another, and have a significant, positive impact on students’ lives.

In November, teachers and school leaders from the schools that participated in the exchange visits, including the schools hosted them met to reflect on what they learned and develop action plans. Many noted how practical examples are already being implemented in schools and committed to apply the same in their own schools. Some activities were very simple, such as taking students outside the classrooms to explore and learn, to specific interventions of engaging children in big class sizes without corporal punishment.

One teacher noted that private schools have a large number of students compared to the Basic Education Filial Schools, but they somehow manage the school well and know each child and even their parents. This is an important realization for the teachers and school principals from the public schools to make the extra effort to engage parents by regularly communicating to them about their children’s progress and inviting them to school activities.

At the close of the workshop, each school had a list of things they plan to implement. They also made plans to visit each other’s schools, this time with their own initiative, a good start in building a peer support group at the school level.

peer education 5
UNICEF Timor-Leste/2018/Lopes
Participants to the learning exchange workshop in November along with the Director General for Basic Education, Director for Basic Education, and UNICEF Deputy Representative.