Monday, May 30, 2016

In Timor-Leste’s remote communities, parents and children learn together

Olympia Carvalho had always wanted to send her eldest children to preschool, but the classes were too far and too expensive. Now, thanks to a new alternative preschool and parenting education programme in her rural community, both she and her children will get a chance to learn.
Olympia Carvalho with her three children at her house in the remote village of Matahoi.
She has been attending parenting education classes
while her children attend the alternative preschool in their community.
©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2016/gmdasilva
MATAHOI, Timor-Leste, 23 May 2016 – At the stroke of 8 a.m., a ringing bell echoes through the remote village of Matahoi in Timor-Leste’s Viqueque municipality. As the sound fades, Olympia Carvalho, a 26-year-old mother of three, makes her way to the village centre in this small agricultural community, which is located 170 kilometres east of the country’s capital, Dili.


The bell indicates the start of another parenting education session for Ms. Carvalho, but it also signals a new beginning for her children. This is because while she attends the parenting session, her two eldest children, Atanazio, 5, and Izaias, 3, attend the newly-established alternative preschool.


A community supported alternative
The alternative preschool programme is an informal learning session for children aged 3 to 5 who have no access to formal preschool. It follows the Ministry of Education’s curriculum and is facilitated by trained community volunteers.


“I am very pleased to have the alternative preschool here,” Ms. Carvalho says. “Now my kids can go to a school in their own community. I always wanted my eldest son to attend preschool when he turned 3, but I could not afford to send him, and it is located very far, around two hours walk from our home.”


The preschool class is held three times a week, and it has been running in the community for about three months. Ms. Carvalho says that both she and her children have already learned a lot. “I make sure that they attend regularly, and most of the time I also accompany them. I've learned many good ideas from the teacher, such as learning through playing, which I apply with my children at home,” she says.


Teresa Fernandes is a housewife and a trained community volunteer who is giving her time in the interest of the children in her village. With UNICEF support, Ms. Fernandes received training on facilitation skills, classroom management and lesson planning using the new school curriculum. Each volunteer also receives essential learning materials.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Aida’s story: “I like to learn. I want to know more for my future”

Aida Mesquita, 14, leaves for school. Aida is in the fifth grade
at Sarlala Basic Education Filial (satellite) School,
a UNICEF-supported Child Friendly School in Aileu Municipality.
 Timor-Leste. @UNICEF Timor-Leste/2015/klynch
When she was just five years old, Aida Mesquita followed her older siblings to their local school and started the first grade. “It was really noisy,” she remembers, “there were two grades in a single classroom and it was crowded, so it was hard to concentrate.” The teacher stood in front of the rows of desks and talked. “If we didn’t pay attention, the teachers would punish us. It made me scared to be at school.”

At the end of the year, Aida dropped out. Like more than 70 per cent of students in Timor-Leste who complete grade one, she could not read a single word.

Two years later, with a push from the teachers and her parents, Aida, then eight years old, returned to school to repeat the first grade. She found that things had changed. UNICEF had supported the Ministry of Education to train her teachers in the ‘Eskola Foun’, or Child Friendly Schools approach.

“The method of teaching was different,” she says, “and every grade had its own classroom so it was easier to learn. There were also more activities and the teachers explained things to us in a way that I could understand.”

Born in 2002, the same year her country was officially recognized as Asia’s newest nation, Aida’s story is all too common. Even today, only 54 per cent of students in Timor-Leste enter grade one at the correct age—some enter too young, and some too old. A few, like Aida, do both. And while drop out rates have decreased significantly, repetition rates, especially in the early grades, are still very high: almost 30 per cent of students in grade one do repeat the first year of school.