Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Sergio returns to school with a big hope

Sergio da Silva, 19 (grade 9) is a leader at his school, the Escola Basica Central
in the town of Laclubar, Manatuto Municipality, Timor-Leste.
©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2015/klynch
When we last met Sergio da Silva in 2012, he was 16 and just completing the sixth grade. He didn’t like being so much older than the rest of the students in his class, but he wasn’t feeling shy about it. “This happened because when I was in the first grade I got sick and had to drop out,” he explained.

“The same thing happened the following year, and again the year after that. Finally, I finished the first grade on my fourth try. I might have dropped out except my parents kept making me to go back. They said if you want to have a bright future you need an education.”

Changing life
Sergio’s school, Dirik Hun Primary School in Laclubar sub-district in Manatutu which serves students in grades 1-6, had undergone a big change, becoming a UNICEF-supported Child Friendly School (CFS) the year before. Sergio explained the changes this had brought to his classroom, “Teachers gave us very little opportunity to talk before.

They were the only ones who talked—non-stop from morning to afternoon. We couldn’t express what we understood or ask questions if we didn’t understand. They just said ‘We know and you should listen to us.’ But after their training, my teachers have gotten better at teaching us.

They’ve put us into groups and now they give us instructions and we discuss different topics with our groups and report back to the class. Before I was so bored. I didn’t like school and I didn’t learn much. Now I have to think. I have to talk and respond. I have to lead discussions and argue issues. I am learning so much more, and I like coming to school.”

Sergio left Dirik Hun Primary School after grade six to attend the Central Basic School in Laclubar, a pre-secondary school (grade 7 to 9). As UNICEF’s ‘Eskola Foun’ or Child Friendly School (CFS) approach has not yet been introduced in pre-secondary schools in Timor-Leste, it was a return to the traditional teaching methods he had been so happy to leave behind.

Taking lead & helping others
But Sergio was undeterred. “What I learned in Dirik Hun has really helped me here,” he says. Throughout his time at the Central Basic School, Sergio has been a leader, helping to lead the school’s morning assembly and serving as “Minister for Sports” in the school’s student council. When the teacher is late, as chief of his classroom, he collects the textbooks from the office, arranges students into groups like he learned at Dirik Hun, and sets questions for them to discuss.
Sergio da Silva helps his brothers and sisters with their homework
at their house outside Laclubar, Manatuto Municipality ©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2015/klynch
 Students from five different second cycle primary schools make up the student body at the Central Basic School. Four of these CFS are directly supported by UNICEF and one is not. Asked if he has seen any difference between the students who come from the different schooling models, he said, “As per my observation, those who went to non UNICEF supported schools- are afraid to talk in class. And more of them have dropped out.”

Sergio’s teacher, Nelson Amaral Marques, has also observed these differences. “The students who went to a UNICEF supported CFS primary school have an advantage over those who did not. They have the courage and skills to speak up and express their ideas. They are also active in group discussions and their academic performance is better.”

To date, UNICEF’s child friendly approach, has only been integrated into the teacher training and curriculum for grades 1-6. “We would like it to continue to grades 7-9,” says Marques, “so we can do a better job of helping our students to learn. Then, by the time they are ready to go on to higher grade in school, they will have the skills they need to complete their schooling because their foundation will be strong.”

In a country where less than 20 per cent of young people continue on to grade 7-9 in school, that foundation is critical to the future of these young people and this young nation.
In his free time Sergio da Silva likes to sing and play the guitar.
Sergio is a leader at his school, the Escola Basica Central
in the town of Laclubar, Manatuto Municipality, Timor-Leste.
©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2015/klynch
As Sergio goes to join the Independence Day celebrations, we ask him about his own plans for the future. “My life is a journey and there is a long way to go. I will study hard and I will learn. Then I can get a job and help my parents and siblings.” With six younger siblings still at home, there are a lot of shoes and uniforms and notebooks to buy, and his parents, who are farmers, have a limited income.

Asked if he is still aspires to be a teacher, he says, “I still have some interest in teaching, but what I really want to do is become a journalist. I want to tell people what is happening on the ground. We are a young country and I feel I have a contribution to make.”

By Kelley Lynch, Consultant

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