[lg policy] Australia: Public lecture on Language, language policies and education in Timor-Leste

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Mon Jun 25 14:45:01 UTC 2012

Public lecture: Language, language policies and education in Timor-Leste
Date and Time:
Fri, 2012-07-20 17:30 - 18:30

Ms Kirsty Sword Gusmão

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 marginalization.

The 4th 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

The lecture will explore 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 provide a
snapshot of the Timor-Leste National Commission for UNESCO’s Mother
Tongue-Based Multilingual Education pilot program.

This lecture is free and open to the public.


Ms Kirsty Sword (Gusmão) was born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1966.
She grew up in Melbourne and Bendigo and attended Melbourne University
where she completed a Bachelor of Arts (Honours), majoring in
Indonesian and Italian, and a Diploma of Education.

In 1991, after working as an Administrative Secretary with the
Overseas Service Bureau (Australian Volunteers International), she
joined the Refugee Studies Program at Oxford University as Assistant
to the Development Coordinator. During 1991, she travelled to East
Timor as the Researcher/Interpreter the Yorkshire Television
documentary film (In Cold Blood: The massacre of East Timor) on
political and social developments in the territory.

>>From 1992 to 1996, she lived and worked as a teacher and human rights
campaigner in Jakarta, Indonesia. It was during these years that her
work for the East Timorese independence cause intensified and brought
her into contact with the independence leader, Xanana Gusmão, who was
serving a 20-year sentence in a Jakarta jail and whom she married in
July, 2000.

She has lived in East Timor since October 1999 and is the founder and
chairwoman of the Alola Foundation which she established in 2001 to
address the needs of East Timorese women and their families.

Kirsty 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. She is passionate about the issue
of language policy and language of instruction in schools in
Timor-Leste and is presently spear-heading initiatives aimed at giving
a role to the country’s some 30 local languages in the education
system. She has three sons, Alexandre (11 years), Kay Olok (9 years)
and Daniel (7 years).

Information about the work of the Alola Foundation can be found on the website:



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