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A School in Timor-Leste Is Fining Students for Speaking One of the Country’s Two Official Languages

jornal Timor Post 13julho2016

“If a student speaks Tetum, they get a $1 fine.” Photo: Timor Post, July 13 edition

The board of the Fatumeta Basic School, in Dili, has decided to start enforcing a rule against students speaking any language but Portuguese, including Tetum, while on school grounds.

According to the newspaper Timor Post, the director of the school, Fernanda Belo, argues that students should only speak Portuguese. Those “who do not speak the language,” she says, are better off “remaining silent.” According to the newspaper, students caught speaking any language other than Portuguese are “fined.” Written in Tetum, the Timor Post quotes Belo as saying:

Ami ko’alia ona ho inan-aman katak alunus sira tama iha resintu eskola ne’e labele ko’alia tetun, hotu-hotu ko’alia lian português, sé maka ko’alia tetun sei multa dollar 1

We have communicated this rule to the parents and established that they cannot speak Tetum; everyone has to speak Portuguese. If they speak Tetum, they get a $1 fine.

The school director emphasizes that the “parents agreed to the rule” and justifies imposing the fine in order to help students to speak more Portuguese.

After gaining independence from Indonesia in 2002, Timor-Leste adopted Portuguese and Tetum as the country's official languages. A decade later, however, studies indicated that only 15 percent of the population spoke Portuguese:

Apesar de fazer parte da CPLP, Timor-Leste é um dos países com menor penetração da Língua portuguesa. Por todo o território falam-se cerca de 20 línguas e dialetos para além do Indonésio. Apenas 15% da população fala Português.

Despite being part of the CPLP, Timor-Leste is one of the countries with lower penetration of the Portuguese language. Throughout the country, about 20 different languages and dialects are spoken, in addition to Indonesian. Only 15 percent of the population speaks Portuguese.

The Fatumeta Basic School's rules, however, appear to violate the country's laws on teaching. The President of the Alola Foundation and the goodwill ambassador for Educational Affairs, Kirsty Sword Gusmao, told Global Voices that the school's policy of fining Tetum speakers is being reviewed:

Ha'u sei refere asuntu ida ne'e ba Sra Vice-Ministra Ensinu Báziku tanba regra/sansaun hanesan ne'e la han malu ho Dekreto Lei kona-ba Kurrikulu Foun Ensinu Baziku nian.

I will refer this matter to Mrs. Deputy Minister for Basic Education because this rule/sanction does not correspond with the Law for Basic Education Curriculum [of Timor-Leste].

Kirsty Sword Gusmão,

Kirsty Sword Gusmão. Photo in public domain.

Gusmão explained:

Sra Diretora Eskola Fatumeta ne'e mak tenke simu multa tanba viola Dekretu Lei 4/2015 Kurrikulu Ensinu Báziku ne'ebé determina: a) prosesu hanorin lian tenke hahú ho oralidade no depois mak hakat ba lee no hakerek (art. 11-1) b) progresaun husi Tetun ba Portugés (hahú hanorin literásia Tetun) (art. 11-2) c) karga oráriu literasia Tetun no Portugés iha siklu 1 la hanesan (Tetun mak barak liu) no iha siklu 2 hanesan  d) objetivu final aprendizajen komponente literásia atu iha báze mak’as lian ofisiál rua (art 11-2) (la iha objetivu atu hanorin lian inan/nasionál seluk) e) uza lian instrusaun sei lalenok progresaun (hahú lian instrusaun ne’ebé uza mak Tetun no depois mak hahú móis hanorin komponente kurrikular seluk ho lian Portugés (art. 14-2 no 3) Viva lian-Tetun!

The Fatumeta School Director is the one that should be fined for violating Law-Decree 4/2015 of the Basic Education Curriculum, which requires (a) the learning process has to start orally, and then reading followed by writing; (b) the progression from Tetum to Portuguese (begins with the teaching of Tetum literacy) (article 11-2); (c) the hours of Tetum and Portuguese literacy in the first cycle is not equal (Tetum will be higher) and in the second cycle it will become equal; and (d) in order to end the learning of the literacy component, it will need to first establish the basis of the two official languages (article 11-2) (no need to teach other maternal or national languages). Long live the Tetum language!

Global Voices also spoke to João Paulo Esperança, a Portuguese linguist who has lived in Dili for many years. Esperança says the situation at the school needs to be confirmed, and then a response may or may not be necessary:

Penso que primeiro há que confirmar qual é a situação real nesta escola, mas eu, pessoalmente, não concordo com políticas escolares que proíbam os alunos de falarem a língua que quiserem no recinto escolar, fora da aula. E pode haver também famílias sem possibilidades económicas de pagar estas multas. Mas creio que não é com má intenção que alguns diretores e professores tentam implementar medidas destas. Antigamente as escolas em Timor usavam muito os castigos corporais, a língua de ensino era o português e, depois da invasão, o indonésio, e os alunos eram punidos fisicamente por falarem outras línguas; era essa a experiência pessoal da maior parte das pessoas, mas a pedagogia moderna recusa que se possa bater aos alunos, por isso alguns professores tentam usar essas multas como um castigo alternativo. Quanto à tentativa de criar uma escola de imersão em língua portuguesa, isso terá provavelmente a ver com o facto de as escolas vistas como modelo em Timor também o serem, e isto inclui, por exemplo, a Escola Portuguesa, as Escolas de Referência e o mítico Externato de São José. Aliás, ultimamente tem surgido uma tendência que nos devia fazer pensar: muitos pais da classe média-alta que não conseguem vaga nessas escolas de imersão em língua portuguesa aqui em Díli estão a colocar os filhos em escolas filipinas de imersão em língua inglesa.

First, we must confirm the true situation at this school, but I personally do not agree with school policies that prohibit students from speaking the language they want to use on the school grounds, outside of class. And there may also be families without financial means to pay these fines. But I think it is not with an evil intent that some principals and teachers try to implement these measures. Previously, schools in Timor often used corporal punishment, the teaching language was Portuguese (and, after the invasion, it was Indonesian), and students were punished physically for speaking other languages. This was most people's personal experience, but modern pedagogy refuses such measures from the past, so some teachers try to use these fines as an alternative punishment. As for the attempt to create an immersion school in Portuguese, it will probably have to do with the fact that schools, seen as model in Timor like the Portuguese School, the Reference Schools and the mythic Externato S. José are committed to everyone speaking Portuguese inside the classroom [without the fines]. And this, lately, has led to a trend that should make us think. Many parents of Dili's upper-middle class, whose children cannot gain admittance to these immersion schools in Portuguese, are putting them in Filipino immersion schools of English, instead.

Estanislau Saldanha, the president of the Permanent Council of the Board of Directors of DIT – Dili Institute of Technology, also believes the strict language policy is illegal:

Desizaun nee viola konstituisaun RDTL konaba lian ofisial no viola lei base edukasaun konaba lian instrusaun iha eskola. Nunee viola direitu estudante nian hodi expresa no aprende iha lian nb fasil no tulun sira atu aprende kontiudu siensia nb lais.

This decision violates the RDTL Constitution in relation to the official language and also violates the basic law of education regarding the language of instruction at school. Therefore, it violates the right that students have to express themselves and learn in an easier language that supports them to learn science materials in a faster way.

Virgilio da Silva Guterres, the president of Timor-Leste's Press Council, says the interests of teaching science should prevail:

Eskola Fatumeta nee keta eskola lian portugues karik? Eskola nia objetivu nee atu aprende siensia. Lian, portugues ka ingles, nudar meiu ka instrumentu atu aprende., la'os objetivu. Ita labele uza labarik sira nudar objetu retaliasaun ba regra sira nebe uluk aplika ba ita. Eskola Soibada, Colégio Maliana, no Ossu nia regra vale no aplicável iha sira nia tempu. La'os ba tempu hotu-hotu. Husu Diretora eskola revoga regra nee.

The School of Fatumeta is meant to be a Portuguese language school? The aim of the school is to teach science. Using Portuguese or English language as a means or instrument to learn it, the goal is not the language itself [but learning science]. We can not use children for retaliatory aims with rules that once applied. The rules of the school Soibada, Maliana and College Ossu were valid and applicable in his time [but] not for all time [for today]. I ask the school principal to revoke this rule. [During the Portuguese colonisation, these schools used to apply education rules under the retaliation of a dictatoship period]

Kashogy Junior, whose younger brothers study in a primary school in Dili, wrote on Facebook:

Mana, questão sira nene dala ruma atu leva ba mesa discução mos aluno sira iha duvida, Tauk hetan terminação estuda nian, ka hasai husi escola, tauk sira hetan transferencia ba escola seluk nebe mak sira la du'un gosta, e barak tan. Em tão, buat hotu lakon deit iha anin leten :). Istoria barak, so que ita mos hanoin ru-rua fali atu halo qeicha. Estudante sira ne balun em tão foti ne hansan “Joke” wainhira hetan sanção.

Sometimes students are afraid to raise these questions because they fear being expelled from school. They are afraid of being transferred to schools they don't want to attend, as well. So concerns “go up in smoke,” though there are many stories. Students think twice before they complain about anything. Some students play ironic jokes with the situation when they are sanctioned.

The Timor Post's report has had a profound impact on Timorese society. Fining students for speaking Tetum has produced particular shock among the public because Tetum is one of the country's official languages.

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