As we go from school to school, often living with teachers or local relatives of my colleagues, we get a brief picture of life in ‘the mountains’, as the Timorese refer to any place outside the capital Dili. Many times we see schools better organized and students more disciplined than at the average school in Dili. Also, many times the classes are of reasonable size; in Dili you’ll never find a class with less than 30 students in a public school, but this is common outside the capital. As frequently noted, education can work a lot better with small classes.
But these are all just single factors. Good education is like any art: to do it really well requires getting dozens of details right, from the tidiness of the campus to the chalkboard technique of the teachers.
The two key issues we try to rectify in our work are poor understanding by teachers of the curriculum’s content and poor technique in conveying it, that is, bad pedagogy. Both these issues are deep and wide, and any one day won’t change much, no matter how well we work. Thus, a third goal is general encouragement, tinged with a slight threat: all this pratika is now part of the official curriculum. In other words: its your job, now get at it!
One additional issue is time management. I’ve seen that time is not money here in Timor-Leste, and in fact there is often no economic benefit to doing things quickly or efficiently. Truth is, time and time again SESIM finds itself in situations where being punctual and having a tight plan ends up costing us or at least not offering any benefit at all. Far more important is flexibility and the ever-ready ability to grasp an opportunity when it arises.
But certainly time can be equated to knowledge, and students need every available minute of class time to get smarter. We try to get teachers to be punctual with start and stop times, watch the clock during the lessons, and not waste any time with unnecessary parts. It’s often an agonizing decision for us observers as to how long we wait while a teacher heads down a marginal pedagogical path or offers unclear or wrong information to the class before we step in to put things back on the high road.
I continue to gain insight in both content and pedagogy from the teachers I observe. I find it a great privilege to have visited so many schools and seen so many perspectives. I hope I can pass on the best of my findings to the other teachers we’ll work with in the future. Here are a few more photos of our visits.