Global Education

Teacher resources to encourage a global
perspective across the curriculum

Timor-Leste

Map for Timor-Leste
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  • The people of Timor-Leste are rebuilding their country after years of conflict. This graffiti indicates some of the struggle.
  • A Timor-Leste man wears a tais mane around his waist, made from cloth woven in a local design.
  • Rice fields in the Aileu Valley, Timor-Leste, 47 kilometres south-west of the capital, Dili
  • Village women develop learning materials in their local language to learn to read and write and overcome their disadvantage, in Timor-Leste.
  • Village women experience new freedom through learning and talking together, in Timor-Leste.
  • Father Pat MacAnally and villagers care for the young mulberry plants in Timor-Leste.
  • Villagers prepare the mulberry seedlings in the newly built sheds.
  • Thousands of tiny silkworms gorge themselves on fresh mulberry leaves for three weeks before spinning their cocoons.
  • Cocoons are boiled to loosen the fibres before being spun into yarn.
  • Silk cocoons ready for spinning
  • Australian volunteer Louise Higgins helps a local woman set up a floor loom ready for weaving.
  • Young men with disabilities use specially designed wheelchairs to play basketball in Timor-Leste.
  • Trainee doctors educate people on the health benefits of good hygiene and sanitation in local villages in Timor Leste.
  • At the Independent Centre for Journalism, young East Timorese women and men participate in education and training courses to produce quality news stories.

Case studies

Empowerment of literacy

Village women develop learning materials in their local language to learn to read and write and overcome their disadvantage, in Timor-Leste.
Empowering women through literacy and education in Timor-Leste benefits the whole community.
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Silk tais production in Timor-Leste

Father Pat MacAnally and villagers care for the young mulberry plants in Timor-Leste.
In Timor-Leste, traditional knowledge is used in new ways to produce silk tais, helping villagers reduce poverty.
Read more
Flag of Timor-Leste

Population:

1,201,542

GDP per capita:

US$13,270

Population living on less than US$1.25 per day:

37%

Adult literacy rates:

58%

Access to water:

70%
Did you know?

The country’s official name, Timor-Leste, is derived from ‘timur’ meaning east in Malay, and ‘east’ in Portuguese meaning ‘rising sun’.

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Land

Geography

Timor-Leste forms the eastern half of the island of Timor, an island off the Indonesian archipelago. It also includes a small area in the western half of the island around the town of Oecussi, as well as the small islands of Atauro and Jaco. It covers an area of 14,900 square kilometres, slightly larger than the area of Sydney. Rugged mountains run the length of the island with the highest point being Foho Tatamailau at 2,963 metres. The southern coastal plain consists of swamps and river deltas. The rocky soil and low rainfall make farming difficult, often leading to food and water shortages in the dry season.

Climate

Timor-Leste has extreme wet and dry seasons. From May to November, the north coast receives virtually no rain while flooding is common during the wet. It is hot and humid on the coast, while in the mountains, temperatures during the day are hot but nights are cool.

Environment

Timor-Leste has a very fragile environment. Regular droughts and heavy seasonal rains have resulted in erosion, soil loss and diminished water quality, which in turn threaten coral reefs and fisheries. Widespread use of slash and burn agriculture has led to deforestation and soil erosion. The sandalwood and teak trees were over-harvested during Portuguese and Indonesian rule. In urban areas, pollution and waste is a problem. Flora includes ironwood, eucalyptus, black eucalyptus, redwood, sandalwood, cendana, and lontarwood. Fauna include deer, monkeys, cockatoos, horses, cows, and beo kakoaks. The black kite, shirt-toed eagle, Japanese sparrow eagle, and red-cheeked parrot are endangered.

Population

Timor-Leste has the fastest growing population in the world. Almost three-quarters of its people live outside the cities, in small villages. Dili, the capital, and Baucau are the two major towns.

People

Culture and ethnicity

Timor-Leste is home to a number of regionally distinct groups made up of people of Malayo-Polynesian and Papuan background. There is also a small Chinese minority. Each of Timor’s thirteen districts is culturally and linguistically unique.

Stories, singing, music and dancing play an integral part in people’s lives. Women weave tai cloth using distinctive designs and techniques that represent their stories, records and beliefs.

Health

Health care in Timor-Leste presents a major challenge for the country. The infant mortality rate is 46 for every 1,000 live births and more than half of the children under five are malnourished. Malaria, acute respiratory infections and diarrhoea are major causes of death. Life expectancy at birth is 62 years.

Religion and beliefs

The Catholic Church has been a dominant institution in Timor-Leste since the arrival of the Portuguese. Catholics are the major religious group (95%). There is also a small population of Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists. Many people hold beliefs connecting them to the spirits of the dead, through stones, animals, wells or streams.

Food and shelter

Rice is a staple food in Timor-Leste. Maize, cassava, sweet potatoes and taro are the main vegetables grown. Poultry, pigs and goats are commonly kept and fish is also eaten. Common fruits include bananas, coconuts, mangoes, papayas and watermelons.

Villagers live in a variety of traditional housing made from bush materials while people living in the towns tend to live in Western-style housing.

Economy

Wealth and poverty

Most people are subsistence farmers and, in some areas, bartering is common. Almost 40% of the population live on less than US$1.25 per day and the wealth is unevenly distributed, with the richest 10% holding 27% of the wealth and the poorest 10% holding only 4%.

Education and work

Most children attend primary school and 82% progress to secondary school. Almost 8% of children aged 7–14 are engaged in some kind of employment. More than 75% of the workforce is employed in agriculture. The adult literacy rate is 51%, with great inequalities between males (59%) and females (43%).

Industries and products

Major industries revolve around the production of coffee, rice, maize, logging, fisheries, spices, coconuts and cacao. Vanilla, and candlenut and palm oil have the potential to become export earners in the future.

Trade

In 2010–11 Timor-Leste exported coffee, sandalwood and marble to Australia (67%), the US (14%) and Germany (7%). It imported food, gasoline, kerosene and machinery from Indonesia (33%), Singapore (19%) and Australia (17%). Oil and natural gas will become a greater income earner as the Timor Gap fields are developed.

Government

Timor-Leste gained formal independence from Indonesia in May 2002. The United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) assisted in the transition to full independence with police training, political and community reconciliation and electoral and humanitarian assistance.

In 2012 Taur Matan Ruak was elected President of Timor-Leste. Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao’s National Congress for the Reconstruction of Timor party won 36% of votes to lead a coalition government.

Achievements and challenges

Despite being one of the world’s poorest countries, Timor-Leste is building itself into a strong independent, democratic society. Drought, poverty, and many unresolved social and political tensions sometimes make Timor-Leste an unstable country. Most people are subsistence farmers with only about a hectare of land, often on a steep slope. This land currently does not produce enough cereal to last a family for a year, leading to high rates of malnutrition. The rapidly rising population means the struggle to provide adequate food is likely to worsen.

Timor-Leste committed to the Millennium Development Goals when it joined the United Nations in 2002. With high levels of poverty Timor-Leste is unlikely to meet many of its 2015 targets. However, progress has been made in education and it is likely to meet the targets for universal primary education (Goal 2). The government has also committed to good environmental management and is working to achieve targets for environmental sustainability (Goal 7).

Links with Australia

Australia and Timor-Leste have a very close relationship, based on proximity and close people-to-people links. Australian Defence Forces fought the Japanese military in Timor-Leste during World War 2, and Australian soldiers led the United Nations peacekeeping force during the unrest after the vote of independence in August 1999.

Many Timor-Leste people settled or sought asylum in Australia in the years of Indonesian rule (1975–99). In 2006 there were 9,320 Timor Leste-born people living in Australia, predominantly in Victoria (5,010), followed by New South Wales (2,280), Northern Territory (1,020) and Queensland (510).

In 2011–12 Australia will provide Timor-Leste with a total development assistance of A$123.7 million. This primarily supports basic education and healthcare, creating employment opportunities, improving infrastructure and strengthening governance and community safety.

Australia and Timor-Leste have negotiated a treaty for sharing the oil and gas fields in the Timor Sea.

The people of Timor-Leste are rebuilding their country after years of conflict. This graffiti indicates some of the struggle.
Photo by David Haigh for AusAID
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The people of Timor-Leste are rebuilding their country after years of conflict. This graffiti indicates some of the struggle. Photo by David Haigh for AusAID
A Timor-Leste man wears a tais mane around his waist, made from cloth woven in a local design.
Photo by CpILL / Wikimedia http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/
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A Timor-Leste man wears a tais mane around his waist, made from cloth woven in a local design. Photo by CpILL / Wikimedia http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/
Rice fields in the Aileu Valley, Timor-Leste, 47 kilometres south-west of the capital, Dili
Photo by Nick Hobgood / Wikimedia http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/
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Rice fields in the Aileu Valley, Timor-Leste, 47 kilometres south-west of the capital, Dili Photo by Nick Hobgood / Wikimedia http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/
Village women develop learning materials in their local language to learn to read and write and overcome their disadvantage, in Timor-Leste.
Photo by Erin McKinnon/IWDA
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Village women develop learning materials in their local language to learn to read and write and overcome their disadvantage, in Timor-Leste. Photo by Erin McKinnon/IWDA
Village women experience new freedom through learning and talking together, in Timor-Leste.
Photo by Erin McKinnon/IWDA
Print | Save
Village women experience new freedom through learning and talking together, in Timor-Leste. Photo by Erin McKinnon/IWDA
Father Pat MacAnally and villagers care for the young mulberry plants in Timor-Leste.
Photo by David Haigh for AusAID
Print | Save
Father Pat MacAnally and villagers care for the young mulberry plants in Timor-Leste. Photo by David Haigh for AusAID
Villagers prepare the mulberry seedlings in the newly built sheds.
Photo by David Haigh for AusAID
Print | Save
Villagers prepare the mulberry seedlings in the newly built sheds. Photo by David Haigh for AusAID
Thousands of tiny silkworms gorge themselves on fresh mulberry leaves for three weeks before spinning their cocoons.
Photo by Debra Plueckhahn/Australian Volunteers International
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Thousands of tiny silkworms gorge themselves on fresh mulberry leaves for three weeks before spinning their cocoons. Photo by Debra Plueckhahn/Australian Volunteers International
Cocoons are boiled to loosen the fibres before being spun into yarn.
Photo by Bev Watkinson
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Cocoons are boiled to loosen the fibres before being spun into yarn. Photo by Bev Watkinson
Silk cocoons ready for spinning
Photo by David Haigh for AusAID
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Silk cocoons ready for spinning Photo by David Haigh for AusAID
Australian volunteer Louise Higgins helps a local woman set up a floor loom ready for weaving.
Photo by Debra Plueckhahn/Australian Volunteers International
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Australian volunteer Louise Higgins helps a local woman set up a floor loom ready for weaving. Photo by Debra Plueckhahn/Australian Volunteers International
Young men with disabilities use specially designed wheelchairs to play basketball in Timor-Leste.
Photo by Kathryn Outhred for DFAT
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Young men with disabilities use specially designed wheelchairs to play basketball in Timor-Leste. Photo by Kathryn Outhred for DFAT
Trainee doctors educate people on the health benefits of good hygiene and sanitation in local villages in Timor Leste.
Photo by Dean Sewell, WaterAid.
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Trainee doctors educate people on the health benefits of good hygiene and sanitation in local villages in Timor Leste. Photo by Dean Sewell, WaterAid.
At the Independent Centre for Journalism, young East Timorese women and men participate in education and training courses to produce quality news stories.
Photo by J. Vas for DFAT.
Print | Save
At the Independent Centre for Journalism, young East Timorese women and men participate in education and training courses to produce quality news stories. Photo by J. Vas for DFAT.