Kirsty Sword Gusmão gives this lecture Language, language policies and education in Timor-Leste at The Australian National University.
Timor-Leste is a nation rich in cultural and linguistic diversity. With over sixteen languages spoken across the country in addition to the officials languages of Tetum and Portuguese,Timorese society is truly multilingual. Whilst the Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste defines Portuguese and Tetum as co-official languages, and English and Indonesian as working languages, the issue of language in education remains highly sensitive and challenging. While Portuguese and Tetum are currently used as languages of instruction in most of the education sector, the knowledge of these languages amongst many students and teachers, particularly in remote areas, remains very poor.
The limited mastery of students and teachers alike of the languages of instruction is contributing to school failure, high rates of school drop-out, and has the potential to lead to socio-economic exclusion and marginalisation.
The fourth Constitutional Government's National Strategic Development Plan 2011-2030 acknowledges that a key factor contributing to delayed acquisition of reading and writing schools in primary - school age children is inadequate use of students' mother tongues. Timor-Leste's National Education Commission presented the Ministry of Education with a National Language in Education Policy in February 2011, and amongst its key recommendations was the adoption of children's first language as the language of instruction in pre-primary school and throughout the first three years of primary education as a means of assisting young learners to transition successfully to learning in the official languages.
The lecture explores the issues of language use and language in education policy in Timor-Leste through the lens of linguistic rights and preservation, social justice and identity building, and provides a snapshot of the Timor- Leste National Commission for UNESCO's Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education pilot program.
Kirsty Sword Gusmão was appointed by the President Dr Jose Ramos Horta as Goodwill Ambassador for Education in October 2007. She is Chair of the Timor-Leste National Commission for UNESCO and also heads up the National Commission for Education.