Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Local government leaders pledge to work with communities on pre-school education

Amos Goncalves (Middle) preschool student from Tai-Ubu Suco Lasaun,
“ I love to come to school because in the school I learn many things,
we dance, we sing, painting and learning ABC (Alphabet)”.
@UNICEF Timor-Leste/2017/bsoares
Ermera Municipal Authority officials and Suco (village) Chiefs have pledged to work closely with communities and the Ministry of Education to support community pre-schools in their areas.

The Ermera Municipal Authority and the Ministry of Education with the support of UNICEF brought together Suco Chiefs and officials from the municipality to discuss how communities can support the early learning of children. The meeting, a first on this topic was aimed at raising the awareness of Ermera Suco leaders on the Early Childhood Development (ECD) and the importance of pre-school education for children. The village chiefs, who were elected in October 2016, play a key role in deciding priority projects for their communities and mobilizing community members to take action on specific issues.

“When we build a house, the foundation should be strong. The same with children. If they learn early and help them to stimulate their brains by engaging with them for various activities, then they will have a good foundation for learning. They can better adapt and absorb many ideas when they grow up,” Jose Martinho Dos Santos Suares, President Ermera Municipal Authority said in his opening speech.

Suco chief are participating the group discussion on
the importance of the community pre-school in Ermera Municipality
©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2017/tcao
According to the Ministry of Education, only 11 per cent of children in Ermera Municipality are enrolled in pre-school education for the school year 2017, the lowest among the 13 municipalities in Timor-Leste.The UNICEF-supported community pre-schools fill the gap, providing pre-schooling opportunities to children from age 3 and older, in line with the National Pre-school Education Policy Framework. The official entry age for Grade 1 is 6 years old in Timor-Leste.

“What do we want for our children? We want them to be healthy, smart, and have a good future. Pre-school education is one of the surest ways to support children to build the foundation to read, write, and count. Also, how to solve problems, control their emotions, respect others, and be responsible adults,” UNICEF Timor-Leste Representative ValĂ©rie Taton said at the opening of the meeting.

“This is why UNICEF is supporting the Ministry of Education to provide pre-school education in rural areas of Ermera and Viqueque Municipalities,” she continued. Locally known as “Pre-eskolar Alternativa,” these community-run pre-schools are located in aldeias [hamlets] where there is no public, private or church-run pre-schools.” Parenting education is also provided to parents of children who attend the community pre-schools.

“Pre-school education is important for our children but it remains very low in our country,” said Cidalio Leite, Director General for Pre-School, Basic Education and Recurrent Education while meeting the participants.  “If we all just wait for government support, that pre-school age goes by really quick, and your children will miss pre-school. At least now, they can go to pre-school through the Pre-eskolar Alternativa,” he added calling on the Suco officials to support the pre-schools.

“Don’t wait for the State to do everything for you, also do something for your children; this meeting is on how we can all work together,” he continued. “Pre-school is not free by law, but the government recognizes its importance. With UNICEF support we are implementing this programme and get approval for scale-up in the country,” the Director General added.

“I appeal to community leaders, we should work together and collaborate to implement this programme for the future of our children,” said Jose Suares. He also thanked UNICEF for the support in starting the community pre-schools in Ermera, noting that the municipality has the second largest population next to the Timor-Leste capital of Dili and yet has low pre-school coverage.

Inspired to make pre-schools better

Facilities development was one topic discussed during the meeting, giving the community leaders the knowledge and tools to know where to seek support. Joao Bosco, Municipal Director of the Programa Nasional Dezenvolvimentu Suku (PNDS) (National Programme for Village Development) spoke at the meeting, shared the processes by which communities can receive PNDS funds.  Sucos can apply for PNDS funding to build pre-schools or community centers which can also be used for pre-school classes. Some of the UNICEF-supported community pre-schools have already secured PNDS funding for this purpose.

Armindo da Silva, from the aldeia (hamlet) of Olekata told participants the community pre-school in his aldeia had 38 children enrolled in 2016, 18 of whom are now in Grade 1. “They are the most confident students in Grade 1. They are the ones who always volunteer to answer the teacher’s questions,” he said.

In 2016, Armindo da Silva offered his house for the pre-school classes as the aldeia does not have any community center. After 1.5 years, the community secured PNDS funding to build a community center where they can hold pre-school classes. “I recommend to Xefe Sucos to give importance to the community pre-schools. With support from the Suco Chief you can have good quality building (thru PNDS funding) and get support for teaching-learning,” he added.

Alarico Goncalves, Aldeai Chief of Raelia also noted that his house was used to hold pre-school classes in 2016. After a year, families contributed $10 each to construct a basic community center. He said the community still has challenges including the lack of water, but he is optimistic that if they all work together they can make their aldeia a better place for children.

The meeting concluded with the commitment of the Suco chiefs to further explore how they can support community pre-schools, including seeking for PNDS funding.

Suco Chief Amaro Silveiro dos Santos left the meeting with a conviction to improve Ponilala’s community pre-school. “I will bring back what I learned here to my suco. It takes time to make it happen, but I will work hard to develop my suco, especially for children before they start to study in primary school,” he said.
©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2017/tcao
The community pre-schools in Ermera and Viqueque are the result of a collaboration among  number of organizations; such as national NGOs Alola Foundation, and Institutu Matadalan Integradu; and UNICEF partners the New Zealand Government, H&M Foundation and The Morgan Foundation. A total of 60 community pre-schools in Ermera and 59 in Viqueque have been teaching young children since January 2016. The facilitators are community volunteers who are nominated by the community and trained on the community pre-school curriculum.

UNICEF is supporting the Ministry of Education to ensure access to early learning in remote, rural areas of Ermera and Viqueque Municipalities by setting up community pre-schools.

By Tiffany Cao, UNICEF Timor-Leste Intern

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