Celestina Soares – The Timorese government through the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MEJD) indicated it will include Tetum sign language in public schools as part of learning activities, given most Timorese speak Tetum.
The Minister of Education, Dulce de Jesus Soares said Timor-Leste is using various sign languages in schools to support people with hearing impairments, especially in private schools, but none is being used in public schools.
"I know that we have not used Tetum sign language in public schools. Therefore, the Ministry intends to add Tetum sign language training for public schools," she said recently in Dili.
She said sign languages being used in Timor-Leste are not in Tetum, but foreign languages, so MEJD, the Ministry of Social, Solidarity and Inclusion (MSSI) with the support of the Australian Embassy will include Tetum sign language in school's learning activities.
She added, the Ministry is also going to work with the private schools that are using sign languages to offer them at the Public schools as well.
"Some of our children have hearing disabilities, but teachers do not provide special treatment based on their needs. We have decided that the right sign language to be taught in schools is Tetum sign language, because most of Timor-Leste's population speaks Tetum, and it is easy to use," she said.
She added the MEJD and MSSI are committed to providing Tetum Sign Language training to teachers so they can teach students with special needs.
Meanwhile, the Chief of Department for Inclusive Education at the MEJD, Jose Monteiro said Timor-Leste has not had any official or national sign language and that it is necessary to choose the correct sign language to use in schools."Sign languages used are for hearing impaired students, and so far, which sign language to be used had not been identified," he said.
He said, sign language has been used in Timor-Leste since the Indonesian occupation but it is still mixed, so the government has now chosen Tetum sign language.
Meanwhile, the Minister of MSSI, Armanda Berta dos Santos said they are working with the Ministry of Education on how to include sign language in public schools.
"People with disabilities have equal right to other citizens, therefore the Ministry is focusing on people with special needs. The Ministry already supports the Bolsa da Mae program and provides other support allowances to those with special needs," she said.
She said based on the Household Census 2015 there are 58.000 people with various types of disabilities in Timor-Leste.
"We will work together based on our own roles to push the inclusive development process towards quality and fairness, to allow all citizens to have a good life and equal treatment in accessing education. However, we have to know the exact methods to teach students with disabilities, because sign languages can support those students with hearing impairments," she said.