Timor-Leste Population and Housing Census 2015: Analytical Report on Education

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Executive Summary

Education matters. It is the way through which one generation passes on its knowledge, experience and cultural legacy to the next generation. Education has the means to empower individuals and impacts every aspect of life. It is the vehicle to how one develops and understands the world. It creates opportunities for decent work and higher income and is correlated to many other components which can enrich one's quality of life and contribute to happiness, health, mental well-being, civic engagement, home ownership and long-term financial stability. Besides the economic implications, education is a fundamental right of each and every child. It is a matter of fulfilling basic human dignity, believing in the potential of every person and enhancing it with knowledge, learning and skills to construct the cornerstones of healthy human development (Education Matters, 2014).

It is important to consider those most vulnerable and deprived of learning and ensure they receive the access to education they deserve. Simply stated: all children form an integral part of a country's future and therefore all should be educated. To protect the right of every child to an education, it is crucial to focus on the following components : a) early learning in pre-schools, b) equal access to education for all children, c) guarantee education for children in conflict or disaster-prone areas and emergencies, d) enhance the quality of the schools, e) create partnerships to ensure funding and support and f) Build a strong education system. Such ambitions are underpinned in the 2030 Agenda aiming to transform the world through the Sustainable Development Goals. The fourth SDG goal states: 'Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning'. Successfully implementing Agenda 2030 and reaching the goals requires high quality data. This report uses data from the 2015 Census to assess the situation of education in Timor-Leste. It is an attempt to present a comprehensive picture of the situation of education in the country. Successfully implementing Agenda 2030 and reaching the goals requires high quality data. As such, its overall goal is to produce information which supports evidence-based national planning and programming, which can create strong and well-educated future generations. Besides informing national decision-making, the report allows for international comparison and wants to facilitate the path to implementing and executing the sustainable development goals.

The education system in Timor-Leste consists of four layers: a) Pre-School Education (3 – 5 years), b)
Basic Education (6 – 11 years), c) Secondary Education (12 -14 years) and d) Higher Education (Polytechnic/Diploma and University, 18 – 23 years). To be prepared to enter basic education it is important that children attend pre-school education at the right age.

An important group to consider are those children who have never attended school. According to the census, a total of 31,440 children between the age of 6 and 14 years had never been to school. This constitutes 11.3 percent of all children between 6 and 14 years old. The non-attendance of boys in primary education is slightly higher than for girls, 11.7 percent compared to 11.0 percent, respectively.
The analysis further showed that many children do not enroll in the primary school system at the appropriate age.

Primary and secondary education together constitute basic education, which according to the National Education Strategic Plan should be universal, compulsory and free. It is compulsory that upon completion of primary school children continue with pre-secondary. In 2015, the net-attendance ratio for presecondary school stood at 44.2 percent. The fact that the gross attendance ratio (83.3 percent) is so much higher than the net attendance ratio clearly indicates that a large proportion of students are older than the normal age of being in pre-secondary education. This trend is highest in Dili municipality, where the Gross Attendance Ratio (GAR) is higher than 100 percent. This means that actually more students are in pre-secondary school than the population aged 13 – 15 years old.

In 1975, Timor-Leste counted only two Secondary General Schools, one Technical-Vocational School, a Teacher Training College and two training schools (for teachers of sport and agriculture). Since then, great progress has been made both in educational infrastructure and in the number of teachers (Ministry of Education, 2011). In 2015, there were 106 secondary schools: 61 being public and 45 private (EMIS, 2015). The net attendance ratio of secondary school currently stands at 32.8 percent, with a higher percentage for females (35.9 percent) than for males (29.9 percent). Gross attendance ratios are more than twice as high as net attendance ratios, indicating that again a large portion of secondary students fall outside the bracket of appropriate ages.

The majority of students in higher education (25,597 out of 38,395, i.e. 66.7 percent) are residing in Dili municipality. The net attendance ratio for tertiary education equals 16.3 percent. This is considerably higher than in 2010, when the Net Attendance Ratio (NAR) was 6.7 percent, indicating great progress at the higher end of the educational scale. As so many young persons moved to Dili to pursue higher education, both the net and gross attendance ratios are much higher in Dili than in the other municipalities. Almost one third of all young people between the age of 19 and 24 in Dili are pursuing a tertiary education.

The country has four working languages: Portuguese, Tetum, Bahasa Indonesia, and English. A person is considered literate if he/she can, with understanding, read and write a short, simple statement on their everyday life in any of the four languages. Great strides have been made to reducing illiteracy in Timor Leste. The literacy rate for all persons 10 years of age and over is 67.3 percent, which is significantly higher than in 2010. Women have a lower literacy rate than men (63.9 versus 70.6 percent). Impressive progress has been made for younger, but also older age groups. The increase in adult literacy show the effect of the mass adult literacy campaigns that were organized after the country’s independence. Above age 20, in each five-year age group, illiteracy is considerably higher for females than for males. At younger ages the gender parity index (GPI) is almost equal to one, indicating almost equal levels of literacy for males and females. After age 20, the GPI drops below 1, when literacy becomes lower for females than for males. Currently, the youth literacy rate (15 – 24 years) stands at 84.4 percent. There is still a clear difference between urban and rural areas: 94.3 percent of youth in urban areas can read and write compared to 78.5 percent in rural areas. Large regional differences exist in Timor-Leste with regards to youth literacy, which shows that special efforts will be needed to bring high quality education to even the more remote regions of the country. Timor-Leste is a multi-lingual society and that literacy by language is improving quite rapidly. In 2010, 53.4 percent of persons 5 years of age and older could read and write in Tetun. In 5 years’ time, this increased to 62.5 percent.

Twenty-six percent of people aged 6 years and above never went to school. This accounts to 251,849 persons in the country. This percentage is considerably smaller than the one observed in the 2010 census, when 33 percent of the population never went to school. Both in absolute and relative terms, the number of females who never attended school is considerably higher than the number of males. Furthermore, it is significantly higher in rural than in urban areas. Over the last 11 years, substantial progress has been made in reducing the proportion of the population which has never attended school however. In 2004, 49 percent of the population had never attended school, reducing to 33 percent in 2010 and 26 percent in 2015.

About a quarter of all persons 15 years of age and older (25.9 percent) had some primary education, but did not finish such education. This is much higher than in 2010, when 13 percent had pre-primary or some primary education. Completed primary school was the highest level of education attained for 11.7 percent of the population, while slightly more (12.6 percent) finished pre-secondary. Large regional differences exist between the percentages of persons aged 15 years and older in terms of their completion of pre-secondary, secondary or higher education. The first feature that catches the eye is the fact that for both males and females, the percentage of those who finished pre-secondary education or above is more than two times higher in urban areas than in rural areas. In the census, 44,928 persons 17 years of age and older were enumerated who had at least some tertiary education: 6,840 of them had completed at least some Polytechnic/Diploma studies. The number of persons 17 years and older with a tertiary education accounts for 3.8 percent of the total population. The number of persons with tertiary education in 2010 was 25,299 persons, with a total of 6,181 people who had completed some Polytechnic/Diploma studies. The gender parity index for higher educational attainment still shows some inequality favoring men. The gender parity index stands at .88 for the whole country.

International efforts to bring quality education to ‘every citizen in every society’ is governed by the ‘Education for All’ (EFA) initiative. The initiative adopted a human rights-based approach to education which assures that every child has ‘quality education that respects and promotes her or his right to dignity and optimum development’ (UNICEF & UNESCO, 2007). Within the Sustainable Development Goals, education is a goal (SDG-4) in its own right, but also a means to reach all the other SDGs and is therefore an essential component to reach a sustainable and equitable society by 2030. To reach the SDGs it is important to reach vulnerable children and youth. As stated in the National Education Strategic Plan, Timor-Leste is fully committed to achieving the Education for All goals and aims to ‘Expand and improve comprehensive early childhood care and education, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children’ (Ministry of Education, 2011).

The analysis showed that vulnerable groups still have a serious disadvantage in terms of education:

  • Persons with disabilities: while 64.0 percent of persons without disabilities 5 years of age and older are literate, only 15.3 percent of persons with disabilities can read and write in any of the four working languages in the country (Portuguese, Tetum, Bahasa Indonesia and English).
    Disabled females have much lower literacy rates than male persons with disabilities, 10.5 percent against 20.5 percent. Children and young persons with a disability face a serious disadvantage in school attendance compared to their non-disabled counterparts.

  • Young female farmers: Young female farmers occupy a vulnerable position, as they often belong to poorer sections of society and tend to have less access to social services. They also have a clear disadvantage in terms of educational outcome. They are less likely to be in school. Only 6.4 percent of young female farmers were still in school compared to 70.1 percent of females who were non-farmers. Their illiteracy levels are significantly higher, with 36.7 percent of young female farmers being illiterate against 10.5 percent of females who are non-farmers.

  • Young parents: education and adolescent pregnancy/fertility are inter-related in different ways.
    Education plays a key role in influencing behavior and life decisions of adolescents and has a direct impact on their health and well-being. On the other hand, early pregnancy often influences the girl’s chances of successfully finishing school. It was found that at age 19, 64.6 percent of young mothers reported that they had stopped school compared to 21.8 percent of non-mothers, being a clear indicator that early childbirth intervenes with an extended time in school.

  • Young workers: approximately 13,904 children aged 5 to 17 years old were employed, among which 398 were below the age of 10. While more than 88 percent of male and female children are still in school between the ages 10 and 17, only 31.6 percent of boys and 33.2 percent of girls who are working are still doing so. The percentage of illiteracy for the total group of children between the age of 10 – 17 years is 26.2 percent for those who were not working, against 49.9 percent for those who were working.

  • Young migrants: they are often considered a vulnerable group. In the case of Timor-Leste many young people move to Dili to pursue an education. Therefore, they are in a more favorable position than young people residing in Dili who did not move in the past year.

Those who are not in education, employment or training (NEET) has recently become a popular addition to international statistics as it displays a broad array of vulnerabilities of young people on the labour market. According to the 2015 census, the percentage of youth who were NEET was 20.3 percent, 16.8 for males and 23.7 percent for females. The NEET for persons aged 20 – 24 stood at 27.7 percent: 21.3 percent for males and 33.9 percent for females. The problem of youth unemployment is closely connected to the NEET. According to the analytical census report on the labour force, youth unemployment stood at 12.3 percent. One would expect that young people who are illiterate would have more difficulties with entering the labour market, but the results from the census show an opposite trend. Reported youth unemployment was found to be much higher for young persons who were literate than for those who were illiterate.
Unemployment has been called an ‘extreme situation of total lack of work’ (Ralf Hussmanns, ILO Bureau of Statistics, 1992). The poorest segments of society in developing countries simply cannot afford to be fully unemployed for an extensive period of time and will engage in whatever work becomes available.

Obviously, the pressure to accept any type of work will be much stronger among the poorest segments of society, to which illiterate youth normally belong. As such, it is well possible that a selection process is operating in which people with no education will do anything and accept any form of work to avoid having any income at all. Moreover, illiterate youth belong more to the group of subsistence farmers, who – despite of the very low yields of their work – are working.

A total of 16,618 persons indicated in the census their main occupation was teacher. The teaching occupation is still dominated by men: 10,030 men against 6,588 women. For all types of teaching jobs, the number of males is larger than the number of females, except for the small group of early childhood educators. However, the younger age groups (20 – 29 years) of teachers are dominated by women, while at older ages more men are present.

In the report, education projections were made for the period 2015 - 2030. Two different projections were made based on two separate scenarios. In the first projection, it was assumed that during the period 2015 – 2030 no changes in net school attendance would take place. In the second scenario, it was assumed that the quantitative goals of the National Education Strategic Plan will be realized during the indicated period of 2015 – 2030. The no change model showed that demographic changes in the population would have a rather small effect on the composition of the school-going population. However, large changes in the size and structure of the school population may be expected if the goals set in the National Education Strategic Plan 2011 – 2030 would be realized.