News: Learning and teaching

Marilyn, Sr Maria and studentsIn Timor Leste I have learnt that everyone is adaptable and willing to change. The latest change in education is that the academic year will now begin in October, instead of January, reverting to the schedule that was followed only three years ago. Secondary final exams in 2012 began in late October. This year they must be completed two to three months earlier. How would our Australian teachers cope if this was imposed on them without notice, no lead time? What will it mean for curriculum delivery in 2013 and student performance? The Timorese will find solutions, including cancelling the semester break if necessary.

As well as the administrative tasks I also deliver English lessons for the staff, meeting each group twice a week for formal lessons. I am a trained Maths and Science teacher so I needed to re-learn English grammar myself. My early cry was, “What is a past participle? A retired Principal, perhaps!” I make sure that I use a range of teaching techniques to model best practice. We read, talk and write every lesson. The ‘students’ have taught me so much about the history of Timor Leste and the cultural practices in this society. I use the stories I hear, reading and writing activities to teach grammar.

It is perhaps not during these formal lessons where the most productive learning takes place. On a daily basis I chat with staff and share experiences with them. I work hard every day and show that I am prepared to assist with anything – loading the car for a picnic; attending mathematics lessons as an assistant; sweeping the room after morning tea; taking a class when the English teacher is absent; washing the dishes with the students after a celebration dinner; cooking a meal for the Sisters and teaching them how to prepare my version of Aussie tucker.

There is a strong hierarchical structure in the society with young women sometimes being treated poorly and old foreigners like me being given all the privileges. Domestic violence is recognised as a major issue. Equality and respect for women leads to better conditions for all members of the society, when everyone is working together to achieve better health and education for all. I hope that the presence of volunteers from Australia will encourage Timorese to take positive elements from our culture.

Marilyn is volunteering at Instituto Profissional De Canossa, providing training in administration and English language education. This is her second placement with Palms in Timor-Leste.

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The ideal of a single civilization for everyone, implicit in the cult of progress
and technique, impoverishes and mutilates us. - Octavio Paz