Friday, June 22, 2012

Timor-Leste: Book deliveries ignite a passion for reading in East Timor

Australian Agency for International Development

“To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.” – Victor Hugo, writer

Young children in schools throughout East Timor will stand a better chance of learning to read and write, thanks to a recent windfall of books delivered by the Alola Foundation with Australian assistance.

Last month, a group of young Timorese people met at a warehouse in Dili to pack almost 90,000 books aimed at children about the age of six into cartons – one for every primary school in the country, even those in the most remote and inaccessible areas. Each carton contained 75 books written in the local language, Tetum. At the end of May, the cartons were loaded onto trucks and delivered to Ministry of Education warehouses in each of Timor’s 13 districts. Local administrators then collected the books for distribution to primary schools in their area.

These books are part of the Alola Foundation’s efforts to develop teaching and learning material for pre-primary and primary schools, in line with East Timor’s education curriculum. Alola is a non-government organisation, set up in 2001 by the then First Lady Ms Kirsty Sword Gusmão to improve the lives of women and children in East Timor. AusAID provides funds for Alola’s Education and Literacy Program, and covered the cost of printing, packaging and distributing the books.

The Governor-General of Australia, Mrs Quentin Bryce AC CVO, visited East Timor in May to celebrate the country’s first 10years of independence. She dropped into the Alola Foundation to hear about current education programs and how Australian aid is being used to ensure more Timorese children receive the opportunity to go to school.

Illiteracy is high in East Timor, with only 53 per cent of women and 64 per cent of men able to read and write. Providing good quality learning materials to students and teachers is critical to improving the quality of education. The Alola Foundation’s Education Program Manager, Ema de Sousa Freitas says the books will be a big help. “They will improve children’s literacy and are important because most schools have very little in the way of books and other teaching resources,” she says.

The books will significantly increase the number of Tetum language resources available to children in the early years of primary school. They will also provide teachers with resources that can be used to structure lesson plans, and conduct all five types of reading (buddy, guided, read aloud, shared and independent reading).

AusAID’s support to the Alola Foundation’s Education and Literacy Program is part of Australia’s broader education program in East Timor. Since 2008, AusAID has supported the delivery of nearly 1.4 million learning materials – including books, magazines and worksheets - to primary schools in East Timor. Australia has been a long-term partner in the education sector in East Timor, focusing its support mostly on basic education (the first nine years of schooling) as well as technical and vocational education.