The Gaps and Challenges Faced by Teachers in the Classroom for Science and Mathematics Primary Education in Timor-Leste

Under the umbrella of the UNESCO’s project “Strengthening Science and Mathematics Primary Education in Timor-Leste” supported by the Government of Japan, 22 teachers (41% female) from thirteen (13) municipalities in Timor-Leste participated at the “Curriculum Mapping Workshop” on 6 and 7 November 2020 in the UN House, Dili, together with the representatives from Ministry of Education Youth and Sport (MEYS), Centre for the Study of Science and Mathematics (SESIM) at Timor-Leste National Commission for UNESCO, lecturers from University of Timor Leste (UNTL), and Koei Research and Consulting (KRC) team from Japan who joined online (total participants 41 in Dili and 7 online). The workshop aimed to identify the gaps in resources available for science and mathematics by teachers and students in primary education, and to identify necessary components for teachers and students’ supplementary materials (printed and multimedia) to support science and mathematics primary education. The expected outputs of the workshop were, first a draft report on national data related to Science and Mathematics teaching and learning processes and second, support for project action plan to design training and supplementary materials for Science and Mathematics.

The opening session of the workshop featured the Director of UNESCO Regional Science Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, Prof. Shahbaz Khan, Ambassador of Japan to Timor-Leste, H.E. Mr Masami Kinefuchi, and Secretary General of Timor-Leste National Commission for UNESCO, Mr Francisco Barreto. It was underlined that the workshop was a great opportunity for teachers to share with honesty their daily conditions in the classroom, and expressed how the project and the MEYS could help them in delivering Mathematics and Science Primary education most effectively.

For two days, MEYS presented the rationales behind the curriculum in Mathematics and Science to the participants. Then KRC presented their analysis of the curriculum and their initial proposals for supplementary materials, including the introduction of ESD (Education for Sustainable Development) supporting material. The participants  then  reviewed, divided into four groups, for each block of the mathematics and science curriculum for grades 1 to 6 the existing materials and resources, discussed and listed up the missing supplementary materials and additional intensive trainings.

The top issues faced by the teachers in the classroom and needed supplementary support were:

  • The great number of students per class and the logistical difficulties in organising hands-on with 50 students in average,  The lack of textbook for students (none and if available not all students have one)
  • The lack of basic equipment as since 2014, mainly posters are received from MEYS for hands-on activities
  • Teachers would like to have stronger guidelines especially in Mathematics explaining concepts more in details so they can make sure their understanding is correct.
  • Supplementary materials to help linking better the curriculum and the lesson plans with stronger theoretical guidelines

In his closing remarks, the Director General for Basic Education of MEYS, Mr Apoliónario Serpa Rosa, thanked all the teachers for their passion and their dedication to doing their best with the limited means they have. Mr Apolonario also thanked the Embassy of Japan and UNESCO for the support and reaffirmed its importance and great expectations from all teachers for this project.