The National Conference on Inclusive Education, held in Dili, in May 2010, defined inclusive education as "the education that is available to all in Timor-Leste, without any kind of discrimination." This definition is moulded to the definition provided for in the Framework for the Development of Education in the Pacific (2009-2015), which considers that: "Inclusive education is an approach that seeks to meet the learning needs of all learners: children, young people and adults with a specific focus on those who are vulnerable to marginalization and exclusion. An inclusive education assumes that all learners with or without are able to learn together through the access to common provisions for early childhood education, schools and community educational environments with a network of support services."
 Inclusive Education Policy of Timor-Leste, 2017
According to the Education System Framework Law (Lei de Bases da Educação) approved in 2008, “individuals with special educational needs of a more or less prolonged nature, resulting from the interaction between environmental factors and their own accentuated limitations in the areas of hearing, vision, motor, cognitive, speech, language and communication, emotional and physical health, have the right to adequate educational responses.” Special education aims at the integration of children with SEN in the education system and in the society, at granting them autonomy at all attainable levels, and at the promotion of equality of opportunities and the preparation for adequate professional instruction and integration into the work force.
The Report on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Timor-Leste published in 2011 determined that there was only one specialized school for persons with disabilities in the country. Located in Taibessi, Dili, the school accepts persons with a range of disabilities and aims to equip students with basic competencies in reading, writing and mathematics, so that students can then be mainstreamed into public schools and move on to higher levels of education. With the support from the World Bank, the MoE begun transforming this school into a national education resource for persons with disabilities.
The Ministry of Education with the help of Plan International opened in 2015 resource centers in Dili, Aileu and Lautem Districts. These are the first learning centers specifically for children with disabilities to open in Timor-Leste and are an opportunity for children to have additional learning support before entering into public schools full-time. The Ministry beliefs that the principal role of inclusive education is to ensure that all children can access education from pre-school up to tertiary education.
The Education System Framework Law (Lei de Bases da Educação) from 2008 establishes the general framework of the educational system.
The Organic Law of the Ministry of Education from 2010 established the responsibilities of the MoE and its different Directorates and Institutions.
The National Education Strategy Plan 2011-2030 (NESP) of Timor-Leste was the country’s first attempt to comprehensively analyze the situation of its education system. In this context, different programmes and policies where developed to remove the barriers to participation and learning for girls and young woman, persons with disabilities and out-of-school children. One of its overall objectives was to promote the educational rights of socially marginalized groups or those who are often denied access to entitlements and services because of socioeconomic status, ethnicity, language, race, religion, age, gender, disability, HIV status, migrant status, or where they live and to ensure they gain full access to the same opportunities.
The NESP tried to address the following through its Social Inclusion initiatives.
- Remove gender disparity gaps and improve access to education of females
- Improving access to education of children with special needs
- Improving school enrolment and retention rates of displaced persons that returned to their places of origin.
- Improving access to education of children living in poverty particularly in rural areas
- Prevent situations that hinder enrolment and retention such as education related-expenses (books, uniforms), distance to school, inadequacy of infrastructure, violence in schools and family’s attitudes.
- Promote the use of mother tongues in education.
Through the Inclusive Education Policy approved in 2017 the government recognized that despite real advances in education, substantial differences in access to and success at school persist in Timor-Leste, which can largely be remedied with the implementation of specific interventions to ensure the effective equality to the right to education. Inclusive education is defined as duty of the State and an inherent right of the society that will enable the development of the potential of each individual without distinction on the basis of gender, ethnic origin, language, social or economic situation or physical or mental condition.
Even though the policy has as its scope the entire education system, it focus on students and individuals who are subject to exclusion or face greater challenges to access education. In particular, those with special educational needs, those who live in poverty and remote areas, those who belong to ethnolinguistic groups, pregnant girls and young mothers and working children. The Policy identifies a number of actions to achieve inclusion and equity in education.
According to the Education System Framework Law (2008), special education is a modality of school education complementary to the general modality of school education. Special education:
- Aims at educative and social integration, autonomy at all attainable levels, and the emotional stability of the students, as well as the promotion of equality of opportunities and the preparation for adequate professional instruction and integration into the work force.
- Is centred on the student, seeking always and at the earliest possible stage to reduce limitations resulting from the handicap and to develop and optimize all of his capacities and all of his potential, and with this objective, to integrate activities designed to integrate the familiar and community environments.
- Is organized according to diverse models of integration in inclusive environments, whether in schools of a general modality of school education, in classes, groups or specialized units, or in establishments of special education, according to the needs of the student, depending on the type and degree of his handicap in order to prevent a situation of exclusion and promote his educational and social insertion.
The Report on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Timor-Leste prepared in 2011 provided an overview of the situation of persons with disabilities in the country. In May 2010 Timor-Leste hosted its first Inclusive Education Conference, inviting speakers from ASEAN countries, to develop an integrated inclusive education programme that would incorporate the needs of students with disabilities, among others, and help achieve the national development goal of universal education. Also, in 2010 an Inclusive Education Policy was drafted and approved by the Resolution no. 18 on 12 April 2017.
The Inclusive Education Policy (2017) estimated than among the children with SEN aged 6 -14, almost 60% do not participate in the formal education process. The lack of reliable data on this matter is a challenge for the government. The country has developed a National Policy for the Inclusion and Promotion of Rights of People with Disabilities, which aims to guarantee the rights of citizens with disabilities, including education.
The NESP 2011-2030 seeks to implement programmes to achieve gender balance and increase access to children with special needs. To do so, it will focus on removing barriers to learning to ensure children’s inclusion in all educational areas. Various initiatives promoting inclusive education for children with special needs will be organized in this context at national, regional, district and community level.
The Education System Framework Law (Lei de Bases da Educação) from 2008 established equal opportunities in access to education to men and women.
One of the objectives of the NESP 2011-2030 is to improve the education of females and to ensure that girls have the same right to access education at all levels of education. The gender disparity gaps begin in Secondary Education and are more evident in Higher Education.
According to the Inclusive Education Policy (2017), gender parity in the net enrolment rate in basic education was achieved. The 2015 census, as well as the 2015 SIGE data, show a slightly higher level of school attendance of girls throughout all levels of education. However, gender-based violence and early pregnancy represent real obstacles for completion of elementary school for female students.
Children living in remote areas in Timor-Leste have to travel long distances to attend school. This situation is particularly problematic for young children, discouraging enrolment at an early age. It also hinders the transition to higher education as higher education institutions tend to be at bigger cities.
According to the Inclusive Education Policy (2017), the cost of education remains a challenge for children in Timor-Leste, particularly from those living in poverty. Although basic education is free in the country, the increased informal costs of education such as textbooks and transport represent obstacles for these children.
Mother tongue Language
Many students do not speak one of the two official languages in the country: Tetum or Portuguese. In addition, many teachers do not use the student’s first language in the classroom. According to the Inclusive Education Policy (2017), in April 2015, the Minister of Education approved rules for the regulation of language use in school in order to ensure the balance of the use of the most widely spoken language by students, where appropriate, and language learning
The NESP 2011-2030 will develop and implement a programme to introduce the use of mother tongues in education in the early years to increase the accessibility, relevance and quality of learning. A national Language in Education policy is a key component of the Social Inclusion policy if language is to serve as a bridge to enhanced learning, rather than act as a barrier. The MoE will promote a national debate to define the basis for a national Language in Education policy.
According to the Education System Framework Law (2008), it is the responsibility of the State to promote and support special education. The initiative of special education belongs to the central and local administration and other private entities and cooperatives, collective or individual, namely private institutions of social solidarity, parents associations, tenants associations, civic and religious organizations and union or employer associations.
According to the National Education Strategy Plan 2011-2010 of Timor-Leste the Ministry of Education has tried to address the education of females, access to education of children with SEN, reintegration of displaced populations, access to education of children living in poor socio-economic conditions and the inadequate use of mother tongues in education. Even in the absence of a specific Social Inclusion policy, various programmes are being implemented, such as the School Feeding Programme, the School Grants Programme, the Gender Unit and the Inclusive Education Office.
The Organic Law of the Ministry of Education establishes the organization of the MoE and the functions of its Directorates. The law determined that the Directorate-General for School Administration, Innovation and Curriculum Development is responsible for establishing the pedagogical organization of the educations establishments (including in the modality of special education) and promoting effective inclusive education policies and practices to respond to the various needs of all children at all levels of education.
According to the Inclusive Education Policy (2017), a crucial barrier remains the lack of schools and the insufficient number of classrooms, in particular in rural areas and remote areas. Due to the lack of sufficient classrooms, some schools have implemented two or three shifts on the same school a day. Students attending schools were there are multiple shifts face bigger challenges to access quality education, while schools with more than one shift are often not able to ensure the workload required for the full implementation of the curriculum.
The Decree-Law no. 03 of 2014 and 04 of 2015 established the National Core Curriculum for Pre-School Education and the First and Second Cycles of Basic Education. They highlight the importance of the inclusion of all children, ensuring that the content of the curricula takes into consideration their educational needs. Decree-Law no. 3/2015 specifically provides that "the content and implementation of the curriculum ensure the integration of children with educational needs special, namely those that have difficulties in learning or access to materials, and teaching structures, through the definition of strategies in order to ensure equal opportunities in the labour market learning".
In the context of the NESP 2011-2030, new curricula for pre-school education will be developed and implemented taking into consideration mother tongue language.
According to the Education System Framework Law (2008), special education should be offered, whenever necessary, by teachers and other specialized technicians, and may presuppose the existence of curricula and programs and forms of evaluation adapted to the characteristics of each type and degree of handicap.
Resource centers in Timor-Leste are managed by Inclusive Education Trainers. In 2015 when the first resource centers where created, 30 Inclusive Education Master trainers from Aileu, Dili and Lautem municipalities were trained. These teachers have been trained with support from the Ministry of Education and Plan International and have subsequently trained more than 330 classroom teachers to teach children with disabilities.
As stated in the Inclusive Education Policy (2017), the country suffers from a severe shortage of teachers with the appropriate qualifications, especially in remote areas. Specific training on how to deal with children with special educational needs is a high priority in the country.
One of the biggest components of the NESP 2011-2030 is teacher training. Timor-Leste seeks to improve the number of teachers in the country and the student to-teacher ratio, ensure that teachers are trained to use the new curriculum, implement an in-service training program for all teachers and provide specialist training for teachers and assistants to provide inclusive education for children with special needs.
The NESP 2011-2030 promoted:
- The establishment of an internal Escola Basica monitoring and evaluation systems (including situation maps) to provide information on access (for example. attendance, drops outs) and quality (for example, results of student assessment) of education.
- Implementing monitoring and evaluation systems to assess achievement of the strategic plan goals and in development of school annual plans.
- The development and implement school annual plans based on information from monitoring and evaluation systems to improve Escola Basica performance.