UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown, and Director-General of UNESCO Irina Bokova visited Cassait School in Liquisá district, Timor-Leste. It was part of the Secretary-General’s preparations for the UN’s new ‘Education First’ initiative, which will be launched on 26 September, and Mr Brown’s first overseas trip in his new role.
The Secretary-General presented the school with a UNICEF ‘school-in-a-box’ kit, containing basic education supplies, and the students gave him a traditionally-made model boat. The delegation watched a song and dance performance by school children and visited classrooms, where the Secretary-General read to the children.
“Coming here takes me back 50 or 60 years to my own childhood,” Ban Ki-moon said. “When I was six, the Korean War broke out and all the classrooms were destroyed by war. We studied under the trees or in whatever buildings were left. I look around this school and see all the classrooms. You are better off than I was! I see children and young people with great hope for the future.”
“I can think of no better place in the world to launch our new education initiative than this school,” Gordon Brown added. “You have faced so many struggles in Timor-Leste. This year we mark the tenth anniversary of your independence. My task will not have succeeded unless by 2015 we have every child in Timor-Leste finishing primary school.”
The school has received support from UNICEF to become child-friendly. Working with the Ministry of Education and other partners, UNICEF has constructed school buildings, trained teachers and parents in the child rights-led approach to education, and provided teaching materials for the school. Children are taught both about child rights and about the responsibilities that come with those rights. UNICEF has also helped create a healthy environment for children, including building water pumps and latrines.
“We all recognise that the UN has played a key role in Timor-Leste, since the early days of our national struggle,” Education Minister Bendito Freitas said. “We are aware that education is the key to improving the life opportunities of our people. Our school director, teachers and students’ daily work is the key driver of change in the development of our education system.”
“We have to care for our children and pay attention to them,” School Principal Geraldo Soares Riberio added. “Before, we used a traditional approach. The teacher was at the centre and did all the talking. Now we have a new methodology. The students are more active, there are group discussions and the teacher summarizes at the end.”
Since the school joined the Child Friendly School programme in 2009, enrolment has increased by 11 per cent and the retention rate by 4 per cent (from 71 to 75 per cent). There is now a student association and several student clubs. Students have planted and maintained flower gardens and traditional houses around the school. The style of teaching is more interactive, even down to the layout of classrooms. Students now sit together in groups, rather than in a line facing the front.
“I feel proud that Ban Ki-moon came to visit our school today,” Fifteen-year-old student Jamantino said. “I like this school, the teachers are nice. My favourite subject is English because it’s an international language. My family are cassava farmers. We live some distance away – about 30 minutes’ walk. When I grow up, I want to be a good man for the future of my nation.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown and Directo-General of UNESCO Irina Bokova were in Timor-Leste on an official visit from 15 to 16 August 2012.
“We are very happy to have the UN Secretary-General and Special Envoy on Global Education visit one of the schools here in Timor-Leste,” UNICEF Timor-Leste Representative Hongwei Gao said. “UNICEF is working closely with the Education Ministry and other partners to ensure that this school, along with many others, is child-friendly.
“This means that children have a safe, nurturing and caring environment in which they can learn and play,” she continued. “There are still many challenges such as the lack of text books, qualified teachers and good school buildings. I am pleased that the Secretary-General has reiterated the need for all children in the world to have good quality education.”