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East Timor

Official Country Name: East Timor
Region: East & South Asia
Population: 827,727
Language(s): Indonesian, Portuguese, Tetum
Literacy Rate: 55%

Timor, an island north of Australia, gained its independence from Portugal in 1975 but was annexed by Indonesia in July 1976. At that time, 93 percent of the population was illiterate. A small percentage of the Timorese had access to education, and only 39 students attended universities.

Indonesia required schooling between the ages of 7 and 13 and implemented an assimilation policy through its educational system. This involved the imposition of the Indonesian language and the Pancasila ideology, which is the respect for Indonesian patriotic symbols and the dissemination of a new version of history. Most teachers in the Timorese schools were Indonesian.

The Timorese resisted this policy. In 1994 the Departments of Education and Culture published all the textbooks in their Tetum language and allowed 20 percent of the curriculum to be of local content. However, the resistance movement intensified upon the resignation of Indonesian President Suharto in 1998. In the following year, the Timorese voted for independence under a United Nations-supervised referendum.

In the struggle for independence, most of the school infrastructure was destroyed, and most teachers and headmasters left permanently. However, grants from the World Bank made possible school repairs and training and hiring of teachers. Japan also donated scholarship money for students to attend Indonesian universities.

Meanwhile, the control of the education system was placed under a coalition of the National Council of Timorese Resistance, the United Nations Transition Administration, and UNICEF until local elections in 2002. In late 2000 the Timorese government approved the opening of the University of East Timor.


Arenas, Alberto. "Education and Nationalism in East Timor." Social Justice 25, summer 1988.

Cohen, David. "East Timor May Have Its Own University Soon." The Chronicle of Higher Education 46, 21 July 2000.

——. "Invasion of Timor," 2001. Available from http://www.educationunlimited.co.uk/.

UNICEF. "Appeal 2000 East Timor," 2001. Available from http://www.unicef.org/emerg/CAPetimor.htm.

—Bill T. Manikas

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