05 March 2012

Parliament Plenary Session – Urgent Debate on Mother Tongue

East Timor Legal News On Wednesday, February 8 2012, the Parliament held an extraordinary and “urgent” plenary session as per request of the Fretilin Bench to address the issue of “Mother Tongue” that has been publicly debated over the past few weeks.

The Prime Minister Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao, the Minister of Education João Câncio Freitas, and Vice Minister of Education Paulo Assis were in attendance.

The session was chaired by the Speaker of the National Parliament, Fernando Lasama de Araujo, and attended by more than 2/3 of the MPs including the two Vice Speakers, Vicente Aparicio Guterres and Maria Paixão.

In the opening, the Chair announced the guidelines for this debate which includes timeframe and mechanism of debate, for instance, the debate requester presentation (15 minutes), and response by Government (15 minutes) and MPs each 3 minutes. The debate should not exceed 3 hours.

Fretilin presentation by Aniceto Guterres

Aniceto pointed out that Education sector is the most important sector in the life of the country to underpin the development process. Comparing to other countries Timor Leste is far lagged behind in terms of: budget, infrastructure, equipment, quality of teachers, school feeding program, curriculum and language. All these issues have been problematic and the Government has been unable to find solutions to resolve them.

Now the situation is being deteriorated by the introduction of mother tongue in the schools. He also referred that last year the Parliament issued a Resolution N. 20/II to halt the program taking into account that many people have opposed to it. However the Government appeared to be ignoring the resolution of the Parliament and the criticisms of many people, and goes on with the program. Therefore Fretilin regrets this government attitude and also the absence of report to the Parliament on this program.

In addition, Estanislau da Silva said that the government has withdrawn and spent huge budgets from the Petroleum Fund which people expect to be invested for the sake of the nation and benefit people of Timor Leste. In particular, people expect that the bulk of this money is invested in education which is the most important sector and they believe that the results of this investment will benefit the country and the future generations. However, the government seems to ignore the people’s voice. As result, we still witness many problems around education sector such as: Many schools are still in very poor conditions, and have minimum or poor facilities to run the learning process. Hence, we can only expect that the quality of education in the country will be very low as comparing to other countries.

Antonio Cardoso added that some of the government actions and policies have been discriminative because it provides scholarship to candidates Timorese students from west Timor while there are potential candidates in the country.

Response by Government

Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão responded that the program of mother tongue is inspired by the results of the survey conducted by a Timorese Team of experts. The results of the survey  is a snap shot of the current and real situation of learning process in the schools, in particular in the rural and poor areas where the majority of kids-students are experiencing language problems in this learning process.

Prime Minister underlined that the universal rule of pedagogy is to put the student as the “CENTER” of and as subject of the learning process. Prime Minister then showed the survey books and some samples of the study. One of the survey results is that the students at early age are experiencing difficulty in capturing the content of the subject of study due to language problems; therefore they spend lots of time to catch up the content of subject.

The introduction of the mother tongue is just an initial instrument for the kids-students to learn before they enter the second stage of tetum and the third stage of Portuguese language, systematically. The program aims to help the poor people in the rural areas to learn according to their condition and capability.

Prime Minister emphasized that the use of mother tongue in the schools for the kids at early age is one of the key recommendations from the survey team which is believed to be reflecting the reality as depicted above.

He denied that the government does not comply with the resolution N 20/II.  He also denied that the government has acted discriminatively in providing scholarship to Timorese in overseas (Indonesia, etc.).

Manuel Tilman (KOTA) admitted the multiethnic and Multilanguage reality of the country. However he was of the opinion that applying mother tongue in schools means adopting Multilanguage and may create divisionism, tribalism and the worst is the absence of uniformed and standardized curricula. As result, there will be knowledge and skills discrepancy between kids-students in the territory, in particular between those adopting mother tongue and those adopting national and official language directly.

Virgilio Marcal (CNRT) defended that the constitution of RDTL prescribes to develop not only the official language but also the traditional languages, including mother tongues.  Using the mother tongue in early age of schooling is an advantage for those non-tetum areas and may help the parents to accompany their kids learning process, because their role and contribution to their kids learning process is also essential.

Adriano Nascimento  (PD) in principle agreed with the program, however he questioned the capability of delivering the program in terms of legal basis, human resources, curricula, infrastructure and equipment, which have to be set up first before adopting the mother tongue.

Francisco Araujo (ASDT) agreed in principle but reminded to prioritize the solution for the current problems that have been raised so far as mentioned above.

Domingos Mesquita (PUN) did not oppose to the program but advised the government to exercise flexibility when implementing the program.

Lucas da Costa (PD) underlined that the two subjects of “science” and “language” should be taught and managed properly to help the kids in the schools. The use of mother tongue in the early age is understandable as it is an instrument to help the students grasping the knowledge, however it should be applied systematically along the way of learning process.

Fernanda Borges (PUN) asked whether the government has adopted the “mother tongue policy” from UNESCO as the policy of government.  She pointed out that the results of the study are not enough but rather a broader consultation process may be required to get acceptability of the majority. She reminded that several countries who applied this method like Cambodia, Bangladesh, and others  have failed, and this should be a lessons learned for the government.

In conclusion:
  * Some MPs agreed to implement the program as it is one of useful method to facilitate the kids apprehending the knowledge;
  * Some others viewed that the program can be implemented for the kids at the early age, however they reminded the lack of capability of government in terms of  infrastructure, teachers, equipment, and curricula;

The last group did not agree with the program because it will create ethnocentric, divisionism and tribalism; it will create lack of uniformity and lack of standardized education quality between students in the rural areas who apply the mother tongue with those using the national/official language. Later, it will imply lack of quality of the school leavers and ultimately the lack of quality of the future generations

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