Teaching in Timor-Leste

9 August 2013

From left: Associate Professor Lesley Harbon with education students Lauren Dwyer, Hollee McKay and Paris Esposito on their field trip to Timor-Leste.

Three teacher education students have gained a multifaceted appreciation of teaching in a developing country as participants of a special pilot program in Timor-Leste this July.

Bachelor of Education (Primary) students Hollee McKay and Paris Esposito, as well as Bachelor of Arts/ Education (Secondary) student Lauren Dwyer, joined the interdisciplinary 'Aprende Hamutuk' (Learn Together) program, coordinated by the University's Sydney Southeast Asia Centre (SSEAC) with the support of federal government funding.

Alongside three students each from the Faculties of Agriculture and Environment and Sydney Medical School, the pre-service teachers gained a taste of the interwoven issues involved in food security during a 14-day rotating placement in the hinterland community of Maubisse, and then in a kindergarten and secondary school in Dili.

Spending time in a clinic, primary school, and on farms, the students not only enhanced their teaching skills but were also introduced to child health initiatives and assessments of food production methods.

This immersion in collaborative environments exposed Lauren Dwyer to the many ways in which healthcare and agriculture impact upon the success of education programs.

"Each day opened my eyes to new issues and I've realised how interlinked our three disciplines are," Lauren said. "I think this was a unique learning opportunity because usually I would look at this issue in a very one dimensional way."

Paris Esposito also found the cross-faculty program to be an "enriching and challenging" experience.

"As an education student I was constantly eager to explore factors such as resources that play a critical role in providing opportunities, or in some cases create barriers, that greatly influence the education system and its flow-on effect," she said.

"The support across faculties...forced me to take on a holistic view and be open to a number of perspectives. I am certain that this experience has equipped me with tools that will enable me to teach in communities all around the world."

For Bachelor of Education (Primary) student Hollee McKay, the multidisciplinary nature of this program presented an "invaluable" chance to reach outside of her comfort zone to gain new insights into teaching.

"I feel as though the opportunity to experience education in a developing country will have immensely positive influences on my future career," she said.

Hollee McKay teaches school students in Timor-Leste.

"I am aware that as a teacher there is always room for growth and development and I think this experience will make me a better teacher. The experience has reminded me never to take anything for granted, in a personal or professional context, and I am very grateful for that."

The chronic shortage of teachers in the region saw the pre-service teachers front classrooms of up to sixty students. Yet even with limited proficiencies in the Tetum language, they were able to achieve learning epiphanies in the classroom.

"I asked all the students what their favourite thing about school is," said Paris. "If I asked that in Australia the students would always say 'sport', 'recess' or 'hometime'. But all the kids in the school said they love learning, and that was so inspirational because they were all there for the same reasons."

Associate Professor Lesley Harbon, who supervised the groups that visited schools in Maubisse and Dili, praised the program for enabling her students to "step out of their own and reflect back on what happens in Australian classrooms."

"Sometimes you have to go 'outside' to look back in, to understand our own context more!" she said.

Despite the difficult conditions faced by the Timor-Leste school students, their enthusiasm and passion for learning cemented the three girls' conviction to pursue a teaching career.

"You can still tell that they do really value their education and probably because they have been through so much hardship," Lauren said.

"It's really re-motivated me. It's really enriched my passion more...You realise - this is why I want to be a teacher."

Contact: Kate Mayor or Emily Jones

Phone: 02 9351 2208 or 9114 1961

Email: 58023d55190107130e1307010835141d1a4c07351e682a2261