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Release: July 21, 1999

11 East Timor educators complete teacher training at UI College of Education

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Many teachers in the Indonesian province of East Timor have only a high school diploma, earn $30 to $40 a month and contend with classrooms packed with as many as 60 students.

English teachers may be called upon to teach math or biology even though they have no expertise in those areas, and resources and equipment are scarce. A typical library in an Indonesian school contains the equivalent of one large bookshelf, and most of the materials are government pamphlets dictating what must be taught.

In spite of these challenges -- to say nothing of the sometimes violent political turmoil in the territory of late -- 11 East Timoran primary and secondary school educators who spent four months training at the University of Iowa College of Education are returning to their homeland this week confident they can make a difference. They say they've learned a great deal about American teaching methods, curricula development and tools, and hope to begin sharing the information with other teachers through a planned demonstration school.

"We have seen so many differences," said Ulu Emanuel, team leader for the group and an official with East Timor's regional office of the national Department of Education. "But the biggest difference is about the teacher training process itself."

The group's visit was made possible with a grant from the United States Information Agency and coordinated by the UI College of Education's Office of International Education. Paul Retish, director of the Office of International Education, said that while his office has had a working relationship with Indonesia since 1992, this is the first time it has hosted educators from East Timor.

"This effort to upgrade teacher education in East Timor is also unique because we're working with teachers, not teacher trainers," Retish said.

Retish said that because of the political strife in East Timor, as many as 1,500 teachers -- most from outside East Timor -- have fled the area recently, creating a huge shortage just one month before classes are scheduled to start. The challenge to identify and train potential teachers from various professions within East Timor will fall largely to the group of 11 that has just completed training at the University of Iowa.

To assist them, Retish said, the College of Education is donating 10 used computers, as well as boxes of books provided by faculty and staff. He said the group will also continue to get assistance from the Office of International Education and some of the 250-300 other Indonesian educators who have previously trained at the University of Iowa with the help of funding provided by the World Bank.

One of the greatest challenges facing educators in East Timor is learning to overcome years of dependency on the national government, which has been trying gradually to democratize the country since President Suharto was forced from office in May 1998.

"The country has said it has promised to provide more resources and even give bonuses to teachers in the demonstration school," Retish said. "The problem is that people are scared to death of doing things on their own."