The educational level in East Timor is historically low. Only two out of three residents can read and write. Since independence in 2002, the country’s governments have invested considerable resources in trying to reduce the shortage of educated labor.
During the Portuguese colonial era, the school system was severely neglected and as late as 1950, only five percent of the population could read and write. Only a small group of East Timorians received training to work in the colonial administration.
During the Indonesian occupation 1975-1999, teaching was broadened and improved. In addition to elementary schools, craft and technical schools were also established. In 1986, East Timor got its own university. By the end of the 1990s, 40 percent of the population could read and write, and almost three out of four children attended elementary school.
- COUNTRYAAH: Country facts of East Timor, including geography profile, population statistics, and business data.
The school system collapsed during the 1999 civil conflict (see Modern History) when over 80 percent of school buildings were destroyed. In addition, many teachers and other school staff who were often indigenous Indonesians fled. During the reconstruction in 2000–2002, the school system was given high priority and in 2002 it was restored to the same standard that prevailed before 1999.
But even today, the level of education is low: almost half of the adults have not attended school and cannot read or write. Especially widespread is the illiteracy of the elderly and women.
In 2007, the government decided to introduce compulsory and toll-free education for nine years, but the country cannot yet live up to this. The school system consists of a six-year primary school followed by two supplementary stages of three years each. Admittedly, almost eight out of ten children start in first grade, but only two out of three pupils go on to the second secondary stage. Only a few percent of East Timorans have college or university education. The same applies to the proportion of children attending preschool.
In the first three grades the teaching is done on tetum, which most children master. After that, the students are taught to a great extent in Portuguese, which only a fifth of the residents speak.
The basic education takes place under the auspices of the state, but at the corresponding upper secondary level (the higher secondary education level) there are some private schools, which are run by the Catholic Church, among others.
- Topmbadirectory: Offers information about politics, geography, and known people in East Timor.
FACTS – EDUCATION
Proportion of children starting primary school
78.7 percent (2017)
Number of pupils per teacher in primary school
Reading and writing skills
58.3 percent (2010)
Public expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP
6.7 percent (2014)
Public expenditure on education as a percentage of the state budget
6.7 percent (2014)
The media law proposal contravenes the constitution
The Court of Appeal states that the disputed proposal for a new media law is contrary to the country’s constitution, which provides for media freedom. The proposal is returned to Parliament, which may elect to revise or reject it.
The President rejects media law proposals
President Ruak refuses to sign a controversial media bill proposed by Parliament. According to the proposal’s critics, it was created to limit East Timorese and foreign journalists’ ability to review and write on sensitive topics such as corruption and slanderous policies in the state administration and financial mismanagement. The proposal is primarily made by Prime Minister Gusmao. President Ruak submits the bill to the Court of Appeal for assessment.