Ryan Dagur – Timor-Leste's president-elect Jose Ramos-Horta held meetings with Catholic leaders, including the Vatican envoy, to discuss government and church cooperation in addressing poor education, one of the most pressing problems in the Catholic-majority country.
He held separate meetings on May 4 with Monsignor Marco Sprizzi, charge d'affaires at the apostolic nunciature, and the National Commission on Catholic Education of Timor-Leste (CONECTIL).
In a statement after the meeting, he said that apart from discussing the political situation in the country, he specifically discussed education, which he hopes will become the focus of the Church's attention during his tenure.
"Improving the quality of education in Timor-Leste is not only the responsibility of the government but also the responsibility of everyone, including the Church," he said.
He said the country's education situation is a concern and therefore "we must be solid with the strategy that will be used to improve the quality of education."
"The vision we want is that all our citizens are educated in human values and religiosity and have professional technical abilities," he said.
He is also determined that over the next five years, education in Timor-Leste can answer the challenges of the 21st century so that its citizens will be able to compete at the regional and global levels.
Father Mateus Afonso, CONECTIL's chairman, said given that Timor-Leste is a predominantly Catholic country, they proposed that Christian values "be taught not only in Catholic schools but also in public schools."
He said they had also asked the president-elect to form a special office to monitor the quality of education.
The office will not take over the role of the Ministry of Education but focus on the task of generating ideas for the development of education.
The priest also said that representatives from the country's three dioceses, Dili Archdiocese, Baucau Diocese and Maliana Diocese, will meet again with the president-elect after his inauguration to further discuss this issue.
Poor education has plagued Timor-Leste since it achieved independence in 2002, in addition to poverty and unemployment.
The country with a population of 1.3 million ranks 141 out of 187 countries in the UN's Human Development Index for 2020. The last national census in 2015 also revealed that only 5.3 percent of the population aged 15 and over completed university.
The United Nations Children's Fund also found that only 20 percent of preschool-aged children in Timor-Leste are enrolled in school and nearly 37 percent of rural youth (15-24) are illiterate, compared to just 6 percent in urban areas.
Ramos-Horta, who won the April 19 election by a landslide with 62.1 percent of the vote, beating incumbent President Francisco "Lu-Olo" Guterres' 37.9 percent, will be sworn in on May 20, coinciding with the 20th anniversary of the restoration of independence.