- Timor-Leste has a very young population: The median age of the population is 18.5 years, and 60% of the population is under 25 years of age.
- Timor-Leste has a 58% literacy rate, placing it amongst the same rates as countries in sub-Saharan Africa
- Timor-Leste is ranked 133 of 187 countries on the Human Development Index
- About half of Timor-Leste’s population live below the poverty line, and 70 per cent live in rural areas, where poverty rates are higher than in urban centres
- Tetum and Portuguese are the two official languages of Timor-Leste, however Indonesian and English are also used as working languages
What are the key challenges facing Timor-Leste?
Timor-Leste has made significant progress since gaining independence from Indonesia in 2002. After decades of occupation and violence, during which approximately 200,000 Timorese (one quarter of the population at the time) lost their lives and almost all the country’s infrastructure was destroyed, Timor-Leste is slowly emerging from fragility and rebuilding itself to become a strong and stable nation. The World Development Report 2011 found that on average, post-conflict countries take a full generation to rebuild themselves, and in this context Timor-Leste’s social and economic development over the past 15 years can be seen as an incredible achievement.
However, despite its many achievements since gaining independence, Timor-Leste still faces many challenges, particularly in the education sector. During the violent withdrawal of the Indonesian occupation in 1999, 95% of schools in Timor-Leste were damaged or destroyed, and the majority of the country’s qualified Indonesian teachers evacuated the country, leaving very few trained teachers remaining. This, together with a flare up in conflict again in 2006, severely impacted the education system. While school enrolment rates have greatly improved over the last decade, the quality of education being provided remains poor, with Timor-Leste making very little progress in this area since 2002. One in five students repeat the same grade every year, and class sizes are increasing. Shifts in the language of instruction over the past 75 years have also meant that many children have not had the opportunity to become fully literate in their national language Tetum. Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) data from 2010 showed that at the end of grade one, 70% of children could not read a single word that was presented to them.
Perhaps the biggest challenge facing the education system is the quality of teaching instruction and lack of trained teachers. Approximately 71% of primary school teachers have only a secondary-school level education, and a quarter of all teachers are unpaid and unqualified volunteer teachers. Furthermore, teachers continue to engage in rote learning and are not trained to approach the curriculum with creativity and innovation, and are therefore unable to effectively engage children in key learning areas such as literacy and numeracy.
Another key challenge facing Timor-Leste today is in the health sector. Timor-Leste continues to have one of the poorest outcomes for health in Asia. Preventative diseases and conditions such as tuberculosis, diarrhoea and mosquito-borne diseases are all endemic, and basic sanitation and hygiene is lacking. Health assistance is limited and access to health resources is poor, particularly in the more rural and remote areas. The level of knowledge on preventative health among the general population is extremely low, leading to the high prevalence of many illnesses that could be prevented through a very basic knowledge of good health and hygiene practices. Malnutrition remains a major concern in Timor-Leste: Approximately 47 percent of children under the age of five are chronically malnourished (stunted) and 43 percent severely malnourished (underweight) – one of the highest rates in the world.
It is essential for these challenges to be addressed in order for Timor-Leste to fully rebuild itself and achieve long-term sustainable development.
What is Mary MacKillop Today doing to respond to this need in Timor-Leste?
- Tetum Literacy and Teacher Training Program
- Mobile Learning Centre
- Parents Training Program
- Health Literacy
- Non-development projects