The Canonisation of Marcellin Champagnat, Founder of the Marist Brothers, in 1999 stirred up the desire of the Province of Melbourne to explore the possibility of a Canonisation Project that reflected the motto of “A heart that knows no bounds”. It was in 2000 that the Marist Brothers, Melbourne Province, accepted the invitation of Bishop Basilio do Nascimento, Diocese of Baucau, to further explore the Diocesan initiative of setting up and providing the initial management for the new teacher training facility in Baucau, East Timor. The Bishop and the country in general was faced with a severe shortage of teachers with most of the ‘teachers’ in the classroom being totally unqualified. It was then estimated that the country needed a minimum of 200 new teachers each year for the foreseeable future, and there was no teacher training facility within the country. The majority of teachers were Indonesian and returned back to Indonesia in 1999 leaving the nation with a severe shortage of ‘teachers’ that coincided with one of the fastest birth rates in the world. The average family size is seven children; nearly 50% of the population being under the age of 15 years.
When the first brothers came to East Timor (Br Stephen Bugg – sector superior, Br Mark Paul (Inaugural Director of Catholic Teachers’ College), Br Manuel da Silva [Portugal], Br Canute Sheehan, Br Michael Herry) they came face to face with the horrendous destruction that took place following the vote in favour of East Timor becoming an independent nation. The occupiers, the Indonesians, destroyed the country’s entire social and capital infrastructure basically leaving the whole country in rubble and ashes. The brothers took up ‘temporary’ residence in the parish residence with the local diocesan priests.
The challenge ahead was quite overwhelming. How does one accompany the people of East Timor in their challenge of trying to rebuild their own country from within the ashes that was the day-to-day reality of their everyday traumatised lives? How does one address an emergency situation of very few teachers, schools being no more than a burned out shell, an education system that was totally broken down, and an increasing cohort of students wandering around with nowhere to go? The challenges to be faced in working towards the rebuilding of an education system seemed insurmountable.
The brothers and volunteers from Australia, Portugal, Brazil and East Timor established a steering committee and functioned out of a small office. Their first response was to address the reality of the many unqualified teachers across the country who naturally lacked confidence and educational expertise. Various in-services were offered across the country: classroom management, physics, biology, educational leadership for principals, conflict resolution and reconciliation programs, and encouraging the creation of teaching aids using local materials. These in-service programs enabled the brothers and volunteers to cross boundaries of former community divisions by focusing on a common goal; the education of their own children and young people within a school environment that would become a safe and secure environment for all. An environment within which school principals, teachers, students and parents would have the opportunity to seek ways of reconciliation and thus beginning the important journey of building bridges and emerging from within the rubble and ashes with a vision of hope and mutual respect.
At the same time there was the necessity to explore the possibility of establishing a Catholic Teachers’ College within an environment where effective tertiary education was non-existent. It was therefore important to explore the possibility of enabling the students at the teachers’ college to have access to a Bachelor of Teaching degree that would be internationally recognised and its quality assurance independently evaluated. Professor Gabrielle McMullen, Pro-Vice Chancellor Academic Affairs, Australian Catholic University was instrumental in the initiation of meetings that culminated in Australian Catholic University to support the setting up of the Institute through the establishment of a Degree Program. Professor Jude Butcher (C.F.C.) Head of Education Strathfield Campus and Professor Tony D’Arbon (F.M.S.) School of Educational leadership ACU Strathfield Campus were instrumental in facilitating the necessary processes to ensure that Instituto Católico para Formação de Professores could become a reality. In July 2002 Ms Margie Beck, seconded from ACU, was given the brief of conducting further research and to assist in the overall course development for what was to become “Instituto Católico para Formação de Professores” (Catholic Institute for the Formation of Teachers). Ms Margie Beck, Deputy Director (2003-2012), returned to East Timor in February 2003 to commence preparation and planning for the Bachelor of Teaching program with a view to the first intake of students in September of the same year. The formal opening of Instituto Católico para a Formação de Professores took place in November 2003.
The physical facilities of the Institute were a mixture of Diocesan property and a number of rented houses. Looking back it is amazing what was able to be achieved within such an environment of limited resources. The major resources were a wonderful group of generous volunteers and a dedicated group of East Timorese who were able to envision an educational future within which they could become professional and fully qualified educational leaders within the Institute and the nation as a whole. There was a mixture of full-time staff, part-time staff and sessional staff because there were very few East Timorese qualified to take on the lecturing positions. Those who were qualified were being snapped up by the United Nations and other Foreign Non Government Organisations (NGO’s) at wages we, nor the country at large, could afford. It created a two-tier economy (the U.N. economy and the real economy of East Timor), and the challenges of dismantling such a two-tier structure will have to be faced when the U.N. withdraws from East Timor.
The overall professional development of staff (teaching and non-teaching) became a major focus and in March 2004 Professor Peter Sheehan, Vice Chancellor of ACU, generously set up a fund for the teaching staff of Instituto Católico para a Formação de Professores to be subsidized 50% of any course costs incurred at ACU for the period 2005 and 2006. It provided the teaching staff with the opportunity to be full-time employed, lecture/tutor 0.5 F.T.E., study for their Masters in Education 0.5 F.T.E., and be able to remain with their families instead of having to study overseas. The comment from the National Agency for Academic Assessment and Accreditation in December 2010 is as follows: “It is noted that the lecturers/tutors are able to complete their master’s degrees whilst remaining in Timor Leste through an arrangement with a foreign university. The team considers this to be an extremely effective way of managing the upgrading of lecturer’s qualifications.”
In 2010 the professional development team was able to support ten members of the teaching staff with their masters in education studies. The teaching staff are studying for their masters in most likely their fourth or fifth language (English), and so they need to be carefully accompanied in their studies. These students are enrolled as on-line students with ACU and the professional development team presents the material, conducts the tutorials and assists them with their English. Five members of the teaching staff graduated with their Masters in Education in 2011 and another five in 2012. The team is also working with the non-teaching staff in areas of professional development directly related to their areas of responsibility.
The teaching staff at the commencement of the Institute was largely made up of volunteers from Australia, New Zealand (Br Michael Potter and Br Chris Poppelwell) and Brazil with the East Timorese being tutors. The teaching language of the Institute being Tetum meant that the volunteers initially taught with a translator. Over the years there has been a whole process of East Timorisation within the Institute and whenever an East Timorese has the skills and qualifications to fill a position, the East Timorese replaces the ‘volunteer’. Today all of the teaching staff are East Timorese and the teaching languages of the Institute are Tetum and Portuguese (the official national languages of East Timor). All positions of responsibility, with the exception of the Director, are now taken up by East Timorese. The teaching staff, the coordinator of Student Services, the coordinator of the Bachelor of Teaching program, the coordinator of Teaching Practicums and the Deputy Director are all East Timorese.
Without financial assistance one is not able to engage in any major educational capacity building program. The Institute has been able to attract significant funding from the European Union, Caritas Sweden, Caritas Australia, UNESCO, Manos Unidas (Spain), Children in Crisis (a British NGO), the Australian and New Zealand Government, The National Catholic Education Commission (Australia), The eMerge Foundation (Sydney), Misereor (Germany), and Catholic and Independent Schools. It was only in partnership with such generous donors that we were able to engage in the educational reconstruction and educational capacity building for the thirteen districts of East Timor. Today our two major donors are Misereor and the Italian Bishops’ Conference who have given a commitment for the period 2011-2013, and AusAid is providing the finance for the Institute’s professional development program including the payment of tuition fees for the Masters in Education program.
Many of our students come from extremely low socio-economic communities (villages) and as such do not have the financial resources to pursue tertiary studies. They come largely from subsistence ‘farming’ communities – what they can grow is what they can eat to survive. We have been blessed with the generosity of many donors in Australia who assist us with supporting those students through the provision of a scholarship ($1,000). Such a scholarship provides the student with financial assistance to pay their monthly rent (living away from home), their overall living expenses, dental and health care, return travel costs from their isolated village to the Institute, Tuition Fees and sundry other expenses related to their studies. These scholarships provide the students with the opportunity to make a difference to their own country, and empower them to have access to paid work in a country that has a 60%+ rate of unemployment. These donors are generators of hope and opportunity within this emerging democracy. The repercussion of their generosity will reverberate from generation to generation, and the beneficiaries will be the young people who will have the opportunity to access an appropriate and creative hands-on learning and teaching methodology that will support learning within a non-violent environment. Whenever violent school environments are able to be transformed into non-violent environments within which the individual student is valued and cared for, the staff is professionally qualified, effective learning is supported by teachers, parents and students, and team work becomes integral to such an educational community, the foundations for the restructuring of the education system in East Timor is heading in the ‘right’ direction.
At this moment in time we have commenced phase 1 of a major building program. The new three storey building will provide more appropriate facilities for both students and staff, and will replace all of the teaching and learning facilities that we have been renting. Again such a project would not be possible without the financial support of overseas donors: Misereor, Italian Bishops’ Conference, Misean Cara (Ireland), eMerge Foundation (Australia), an anonymous Dutch Foundation, and Marist Solidarity Office (Melbourne). Br Allen Sherry (Australia), Br John Hyland (Ireland), Br Jude Peters and Angela Petenzi (EUR, Rome) were instrumental in assisting the Institute with the raising of these monies. The estimated total cost being $1.4 million USD.
The architect is presently working with the staff in the design of phase 2 – another three storey construction that will be physically linked to the phase 1 building. Such a facility will enable us to have another computer room, a number of additional lecture areas, appropriate space for administration staff, more appropriate student services facilities; and to work towards doubling the intake of students in the years ahead.
We have been very much focused on working ‘as equals’ even though everyone is involved with different responsibilities. In a cross-cultural setting like East Timor the notion of ‘equality’ can become a difficult concept because the culture of East Timor often stresses the opposite. Our success is closely linked to the encouragement of a sense of ‘family’ committed to the same overall goals of the project.
The key to our success so far is due to a number of important influences / factors: The quality of the courses offered; the implementation of a teaching methodology that meets the needs of the students, rather than a pre-ordained one-dimensional teaching methodology; accompanying the staff in enhancing and further developing a realistic and appropriate work ethic; ensuring that such a work ethic includes a distinct focus on the welfare of the students; and our focus on gender equity for both students and staff.
The recent external review by the National Agency for Academic Assessment and Accreditation (December 2010) noted the following: “The Institute has well-organised administration processes which ensure responsible accounting procedures and good management of the physical plant. … This is an extremely well managed institution with clear conception of the requirements of evaluation leading to quality improvement. It is supported by external funding and the appointment of experienced educational administrators. It focuses on a single degree which has a significant role in the training of primary school teachers for East Timor. It has clear policies and procedures which are systematically applied”.
The Institute also runs a ‘model’ crèche so that working mothers (staff) and some of the students are able to have their children looked after whilst working and/or studying at the Institute, and the provision of crèche facilities has become central in our response to the government’s Millennium Development Goals: ‘Achieve gender equity and empower women’. It is well known and acknowledged that ICFP has been a leader of affirmative action for women in East Timor. The staff of the crèche are all East Timorese and have been assisted in their professional development by Sr Diaan Stuart. The crèche is in very good hands under the direction of the co-ordinator, Cesaltina do Rego.
The Institute presently employs 36 members of staff: 20 teaching staff, 13 support staff (including finance, maintenance, secretarial support, information technology support, crèche) and 3 security staff. The total number of students at present across the three years of study is 165. It is hoped to increase the number of students once the appropriate physical structures come into place. At the present time we have approximately 250 applications each year. We choose 100 applicants to attend a series of examinations and interview on the basis of documentary evidence and are able to finally select only 55 students for enrolment. To increase annual student intake there is a need to ensure that we have an appropriate number of fully qualified lecturing staff, and the physical spaces to accommodate an increase in students. Our professional development program for staff and the construction of a new building will certainly assist in meeting the minimum requirements that will enable us to increase our annual intake of new students.
The continuing story of Instituto Católico para a Formação de Professores is a story that encapsulates the spirit of “A Heart that knows no bounds”. It is an evolving story of committed East Timorese wishing to make a difference in their challenge to rise out of a situation of a violent Indonesian occupation that concluded with the deliberate destruction of both social and capital infrastructure and leaving them with the subsequent rubble and ashes. It is a story about East Timorese being empowered to take up the challenges of educational leadership within the Institute, and the wider society. A story of committed non-East Timorese citizens walking side by side with the East Timorese in their quest for a genuine freedom that is focused on the ‘common good’ for all. A story of how together in such a cross-cultural setting we are able to become a visible physical sign of presence of our gracious God in the midst of the messiness of human living. A story of hope and resurrection.