Monday February 25, 2013
Learning in their mother tongue
FORMER Timor-Leste First Lady, Kirsty Sword Gusmao, is also passionate about promoting mother tongue-based multilingual education.
“This system and philosophy of education embraces the home language and culture of the learner, and encourages them to acquire literacy skills in the language they are most familiar with.
“Sadly, one of the legacies of centuries of colonialism is that many speakers of minority languages (of which there are roughly 20 in Timor-Leste) do not accord great value to their local language and culture, and instead aspire to study in a European language such as Portuguese.
“The effects of this, in Timor-Leste’s case, is that the nation’s indigenous languages face the threat of extinction, while children are taking up to four years of formal schooling to learn to read and write.”
The official languages – Tetum and Portuguese – are the recognised languages of instruction in schools.
However, the 2010 census revealed that in some areas of the country, fewer than 50% of the population know how to speak, write or read either Tetum or Portuguese.
“This means that tens of thousands of children across the country are failing to understand the contents of their lessons and therefore, not learning,” she points out.
“Countless empirical studies and research the world over have shown that the use of a child’s mother tongue in the early years of education facilitates learning and reduces drop-out or grade repetition, particularly among girls since they tend to spend more time at home and are less exposed to the official languages.
“And so, three years ago, the National Education Commission which I headed commenced drafting a language in education policy for our Ministry.
“Today, spearheaded by our Timor-Leste National Commission in partnership with other international and national organisations, we are implementing a mother tongue-based multilingual education pilot project in 12 schools across the country.
“We are confident the pilot results will demonstrate the use of children’s home languages in pre-school and primary education only improves access to schooling, engages the parents in their children’s education and boosts the quality of learning,” she continues.
She adds that unlike many young people in the developed world, East Timorese youths have a keen sense of contributing to the collective good of their nation through their education, rather than just to their future careers and personal prosperity.
As the Prime Minister’s wife, Kirsty does a fine juggling act as a public figure, wife and mother – a balance she says is not easy getting right. The couple has three sons – Alexandre, 12, Kay Olok, 10, and Daniel, eight – whom she says have grown accustomed to the sacrifices that need be made for a nation that still needs their father.
“Being the wife of a man regarded as the father of the nation and hero of the independence struggle, a lot people come to me for assistance. I will continue to do what I can to gradually bring about improvements to the quality of life of East Timorese.”
“Today, I continue to be inspired by the same courage and determination of the East Timorese people that motivated me to get on board the pro-independence movement in the 1980s.
“With hard work and persistence, I believe that Timor-Leste can be a shining example and a beacon of hope to other nations coming out of conflict around the world.”
Lifting lives in Timor-Leste