The second of 4 rounds in our final ‘C Session’ trainings had SESIM in the two farthest districts from the capital, Dili. Lautem composes the easten tip of the island and includes Timor-Leste’s largest national park. Covalima is only 70km from Dili as the crow flies, just over a half hour plane flight, but fully 9 hours if you travel by car down the mountainous roads.
I’ve trained in both of these municipalities before, and returned this time to Lautem with Mestra Mimi and Mestra Sandra working with the science teachers and Mestre Bernardino and Mestre Hortencio working with the mathematics teachers.
Now that we’re nearing the end of our program, I often become philosophical. What have we gained? Several things: Teachers have now witnessed how to teach and learn with simple hands-on and inquiry activities using only simple, everyday objects. They understand a lot more basic science and mathematics concepts. They can’t argue that it’s not possible to carry out this sort of education in their classrooms, because many teachers are now actively doing this.
We want them all to take these new skills, all this valuable knowledge and understanding, and apply it in their classrooms. I’ve written in previous blogs about our strategies to make this happen. But another perspective on this challenge hit me during this week. Even after enjoying and benefiting from three trainings over the past year, the path of least resistance is still very clear for many teachers: keep on lecturing.
- It’s what the students and their parents are expecting.
- It takes less time and effort in preparation and cleanup.
- Though school directors have been informed that pratika is now part of the curriculum, most are unsure of what that means, and so there is rarely any positive pressure or support from above.
- When lecturing, unanswerable questions rarely arise. With pratika, they’re almost a sure thing, which can be awkward if you are not confident.
- Few teachers anywhere have much experience with pratika, so it is unlikely that anyone will be able to help if the activity is not working.
- Though these pratika can all be done with simple materials, still most schools do not have sufficient cabinet space to easily store many science supplies. Also, most classrooms don’t have good tables for doing pratika.
- If one is to carry out successful pratika, there is some chance other colleagues and/or the director will be jealous and make life difficult.
How about the reasons to do pratika?
- Students love it and learn better from it.
- It can be quite fun and rewarding, once you get the hang of it.
So this is what we’re up against. We’re asking an enormous amount from individual teachers and also the Ministry of Education. Only the best, bravest teachers are doing this well right now. To get pratika happening in every classroom is a huge step that will take years of ongoing effort.
SESIM has various plans to continue meeting with these teachers, around 1000 across the country, but nothing is quite sure. We know that some are doing well already and we’re giving them as much enthusiastic boost as we can as we send them off after the final training. SESIM has begund working with the Ministry on a pilot program called GTP, short for Teachers Working Groups, which will meet regularly in each municipality and continue increasing teachers’ abilities.
We’re in an election year here. Timor-Leste has already chosen a new president and in July is scheduled to choose a new parliament. New ministers and vice ministers will be placed according to the outcome of these elections. In the past this has always meant big changes in the Ministry of Education, and we at SESIM are expecting the same this year. Just as in my native land, newly placed officials are not often impressed with existing programs and would rather put their names on new programs.
At SESIM, we’re gearing up presentations for the new minister, vice minister, director general, and heads of various critical departments. We’ll show them what we’ve accomplished and hope they’re impressed. We’ll show them the evaluations from teachers that say they love our trainings and student assessments that show they love it too. And then we’ll hope for at least a bit of support to continue working with these teachers in some way. Wish us luck.