Timor-Leste’s first ICT conference calls for increased training and connectivity
Timor-Leste’s first ICT and innovation in education conference calls for increased training and connectivity for students and teachers
Over two days, more than 300 educators, pupils, development partners and government representatives came together in the capital to delve into the future of digital learning in Timor-Leste
DILI, Timor-Leste: Timor-Leste’s first conference focused on the use of information, communication, technology (ICT) and innovation in education was held in the capital Dili on 26 and 27 October. The conference, titled ‘Reimagine Education: ICT & Innovation in Timor-Leste’, brought together more than 300 educators, students, teachers, development partners and government representatives to focus on the future of education in the country, including digital learning and the use of technology and innovation in blended learning initiatives.
The conference was organized by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MoEYS) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Participants heard from top educators and innovators from Timor-Leste, India, Europe and the United States on innovative education initiatives and held in-depth discussions on topics such as the ‘Eskola Ba Uma’ (School Goes Home) programme, which was launched during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic by MoEYS and UNICEF.
“We have to equip the children of Timor-Leste with the right tools to help them be critical thinkers, to help them succeed in achieving their dreams and competing on the global stage,” said Timor-Leste’s Minister of Education, Armindo Maia. “This is the opportunity for us to make those critical decisions and drive through change that will help them do this.”
The conference also focused on promoting collaboration between ministries, national institutions, development partners and educators, creating a platform for rich discussions and the sharing of experiences.
Participants at the conference called for increased investments by the government and partners in ICT-related education solutions for teachers and students, as well as the inclusion of ICT in the national curriculum for children of all ages. A major theme of the talks was that the introduction of critical thinking and design disciplines in the national curriculum, in conjunction with increased internet connectivity in all schools, would accelerate progress towards ensuring every child in Timor-Leste receives the education they need and deserve.
The COVID-19 emergency acted as a catalyst for ICT in education in Timor-Leste. School closures and other restrictions compelled both the government and its partners to innovate quickly to ensure children had opportunities for continued learning. In only a matter of weeks, a series of distance learning programmes that would normally have taken several months to be conceived, developed and implemented, were quickly rolled out.
Among them, 'Eskola Ba Uma' was developed by the MoEYS with support from UNICEF and other partners, and was the driving force behind the reimagining of education in response to the pandemic. Encompassing television and radio programmes, electronic books, the Learning Passport platform, and printed books for children who are not digitally connected, it helped to reveal both the exciting opportunities and myriad challenges ICT in education poses in Timor-Leste.
“I learnt that when teaching online, you need to study and understand the interests of the students and prepare materials that are engaging for them,” said Juliana Marques Cabral, an online teacher and social media personality who spoke at the conference. “When you do this, students will enjoy learning, even when they can’t meet each other face-to-face.”
As the pandemic pushed students out of classrooms and onto the internet, it quickly became apparent that the 21st Century skills that are so widely acknowledged as essential to future success but that remain out of reach of many young Timorese, would be essential if remote learning was to succeed.
“We need to have young people with critical thinking skills and deep knowledge of technology,” said Tajanica Crista, an 18-year-old student from Eskola Colegio Santo Inacio de Loiola, who spoke during the event’s lightning round of presentations. “Access to the internet is so important in the online learning process. I hope that telecommunications companies will take responsibility for ensuring a stable network, in both urban and rural areas.”
Ensuring students have online access is also important in working towards inclusive education. As Pedro Goncalves, the Coordinator of the National Curriculum Unit at the MoEYS said: “I want to recognize the importance of ICT in ensuring inclusive learning. We are currently converting curriculum books into audiobooks so that they can be accessed by students who cannot see, and also by those who have learning difficulties.” The unique geography and demographics of Timor-Leste was front of mind over the two-day conference, too. With such a young population, and with many people living in rural and hard-to-reach areas, creativity and curiosity came out strongly as necessities in driving the future of ICT and innovation in education in Timor-Leste.
“There is so much potential in remote learning to make things interesting,” said Amy Smith, the Founding Director of D-Lab - an innovative university-based program in international development – at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States. “The delivery methods become more important. The better one becomes at using them, the better the lesson will be. It can be through very simple means. One should embrace the opportunity to be a learner again.”
UNICEF, in support of the MoEYS, will continue forging ahead with innovative ideas to help ensure that every child in Timo-Leste has their right to a quality education fully realized. As Valerie Taton, UNICEF Timor-Leste Representative, said: “To provide learning opportunities that prepare children and adolescents with the knowledge and skills they need to thrive means we are well on our way to ensuring all people live with dignity and can meaningfully contribute to the sustainable development of their country.”