Science expo at Laleia

August, 2016

Laleia, Manatutu, Timor-Leste

After 25 years of oppression, August 30, 1999 was the day Timorese finally got a chance to vote on whether they wanted to be part of Indonesia or not.  Despite massive intimidation leading up to the UN sponsored referendum, including several massacres, 99% of registered Timorese cast their votes on that day, 79% of which wanted independence.  Following the announcement of these results, Indonesian military and their militias carried out systematic destruction and violence that left more than 1000 dead, 200,000 forcibly removed to Indonesian West Timor, and an estimated 80% of all infrastructure in ruins.  The international community, including my government, watched this destruction for more than a week before taking serious action.  Finally international forces entered under a United Nations mandate to administer the newly freed nation.

Seventeen years on, this date is a big holiday; a day when all who voted for independence can rightfully claim their part in the hard-earned victory.  Celebrations happen around the country to remember the joys and sorrows of that event.

This year SESIM was invited to participate in a ‘Science Expo’ in Laleia, an administrative post of Manatutu municipality, 2 hours up the road east of Dili.  I went together with two other SESIM teachers, Mestra Sandra and Mestre Emiliano.  We arrived to find the entire community assembled in the town square, ready to begin the festivities.  Two competitions were held among the junior-high students from Laleia:  first, presentations of pratika, and then a quiz.

IMG_7464
Mestra Sandra standing at the flagpole in the Laleia town square. It depicts a free nation supported by several skulls, representing Timor-Leste’s many martyrs for independence.

SESIM knew that Laleia was the home of several strong and enthusiastic teachers.  We were thrilled to go and see what they had organized, all with their own motivation.  They raised more than $1000, $500 from among their own staff alone, and put on a great show for the community.  As the district education director said in his opening remarks, quizzes are reasonably common occurrences here, but events to highlight students’ pratika are a fresh new happening, one that he hopes will continue and spread across the country.

The SESIM teachers and I were quite proud of the teachers and heaped accolades on them.  At the same time, we were somewhat dismayed to see how formal and stilted the presentations were, how little time was given to actual conversation and interaction with the presenting students, and how even these great pratika activities could be tainted by the deep-seated tendency to view memorization of science facts as equivalent to knowledge and understanding.

We’ll meet with these teachers and talk about better options for future expos, and use what we learned this day to plan our own nation-wide science and mathematics expo, slated for November.

CG

Here are some photos showing the agony and the ecstasy of the Laleia Science Expo, 2016.

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