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Steering children toward success in Timor-Leste

It`s never too early to learn this lesson: “You need to study to get more knowledge and skills,” Josefa tells the children, aged five and younger, at the early childhood development (ECD) centre in Leopa, a coastal community in Timor-Leste.

Josefa has taught at this ECD centre since 2007, which is supported by ChildFund and Timor-Leste`s Ministry of Education. Her duty is to make sure her children are learning effectively and to build their confidence in a safe and comfortable environment. ChildFund and the education ministry also provide teachers with training and equipment and resources for centres like Josefa`s, including furniture, toys, teaching materials and healthy food for the children.

The children play before class starts and then come to attention after giving their teacher a warm greeting hello.

Josefa (pictured above with her class) takes down a book and asks the children, “What do you see in this book?” Today`s topic is transportation. The children respond with various answers: “It`s a car. That`s a plane. It`s a horse. It`s a boat!”

“All are the correct answers,” Josefa says. “Do you know how these means of transportation work?”

Adi, a four-year-old boy (pictured below) with a confident and loud voice, replies, “A car runs on the road! A plane is in the air! Horses carry things!” To liven up the class, Josefa asks the children to stand and sing: “I`d like to ride pleasant transport!” Adi and his friends burst out in a chorus.

A few minutes later, Josefa distributes paper and crayons, bringing the children back to a calmer state. “Now, let`s draw your favourite means of transportation: a car, a plane, a horse or boat,” Josefa says.

Adi and his friends begin to sketch. Drawing is Adi`s favourite activity. “I`m drawing five motorbikes, because I like to ride a motorbike,” he says with pride. “I want to become a police officer who rides a motorbike and arrests people who are involved in a crime.”

Josefa takes this opening to let her students know what such a dream will require: “If you want to drive or want to become a skilled driver of any kind of transport, then you need to study hard, to get better knowledge and skills on how to drive properly.”

Adi walks to the ECD centre every day. His parents, Januario and Terezinha, both work as subsistence farmers, growing the food their family needs to survive. They have a second son, two-year-old Felis. In Timor-Leste, about 95 percent of food grown, mainly corn and rice, is produced by subsistence farming.

On his 15-minute walk home that afternoon, perhaps he hums, “I like to ride pleasant transport!” And perhaps the seed his teacher planted is growing in Leopa`s sea breezes.

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