Paulina Quintao, The network Timor – Leste Coalition for Education (TLCE) recommended the Ministry of Education to conduct in-depth research on the implementation of mother tongue education in basic schools so there is more information and accurate data about this approach.
TLCE National Secretary Jose de Jesus acknowledged that last research undertaken by UNESCO on the implementation of mother tongue education in basic schools in three municipalities across Timor-Leste showed that there was significant progress as the children have good level of understanding.
The study also found that students get better marks compared to those children at other schools. Nonetheless he urged the government to conduct in-depth research of the method.
"The Ministry of Education should conduct in-depth research on the implementation of mother tongue [education] to be presented to the public and the parliament. Through this research, we may know if it is good or not and to continue or not," he said from his office, in Kaikoli, Dili.
He hoped that through more information and better data, that government will be able to adequately respond to those who object the methodology especially with politicians about the advantages of its implementation.
TLCE National Secretary de Jesus agrees that if the research shows there is no merit in the approach and if it does not make better students that it should not be used.
He also urged politicians to make analyse the issue rationally to be more careful with their words as they may be causing to students learning mentality.
"It can lead to mental pressure for children who use mother tongue in their learning because if politicians say it is not a good method it may impede their language development," he said.
The program was implemented fully with UNESCO funds over three-years. In 2010, UNESCO worked with Ministry of Education introducing mother tongue to the basic schools, aimed to facilitate teachers introducing science to first and second grade students so that they may have better understanding and to improve their ability in reading and counting.
The mother tongue education pilot initiative was implemented in 10 schools in two municipalities of Lautem and Manatuto, and in the Special Administrative Region Oe-Cusse. The instruction languages were Fataluku in Lautem, Galolen in Manatuto, and Baikeno in Oe-cusse.
The national curriculum on mother tongue education prescribes that preschool teachers for grades A to B must use mother tongue for teaching. When students then move to basic school first grade level, teachers start using the mother tongue as an instruction language to teach Tetum and Portuguese.
Teachers keep using mother tongue as an introduction language up until third grade but students are learning more in Tetum and Portuguese especially in speaking and writing. In fourth and fifth grades, teachers and students fully transition to teaching only in Tetum and Portuguese.
On the other hand, Member of Commission F (for education, health, culture, veterans and gender equality affairs), MPO EladioFaculto agrees the government must to conduct an in-depth research on the issue.
The MP added that when the commission monitored the activity on the ground, it received several complaints from teachers about the program and the way it was impeding the learning process.
"At first, they said mother tongue was only going to be used to introduce some vocabulary that students did not understand in Tetum, some particular words and the numbering system but now most the teachers use mother tongue to teach," he said.
The MP has concerns because teachers keep using mother tongue to teach fourth and fifth grade students, making it more difficult for them learn Portuguese.
He said the research conducted by UNESCO did not reflect the real situation in schools implementing the program because reports show students who do not know how to speak adequately Tetum and Portuguese. "Our observation is that mother tongue education is impeding students learning Portuguese and Tetum and English in the country," he added.
He acknowledged that mother tongue is the identity of Timorese particularly at the municipality level and should be preserved so it does not get lost but that does not mean it must be added into the school curriculum.