The plans and aspirations of teenage students in semi-rural Timor-Leste
While there is wide agreement that education supports development, there is also much scholarship to suggest that the potential benefits of education are only fully realised when education systems are well-adapted to local needs. Systems left by colonial in newly independent developing countries, for instance, can impede the achievement of their development goals. This project focused on the plans and aspirations of secondary school students in Ermera subdistrict, a semi-rural region of Timor-Leste, in order to explore the relationship between education and local livelihoods. Three case study communities in Ermera vila, Ponilala and Mirtutu were examined. Guided by the concept of the ‘good life’, I sought to reveal what students, parents and educators hope to get out of education and development. This enabled me to assess whether the schooling that students are receiving is supporting their future goals. The methodology combined ethnographic observation with other qualitative and quantitative data collection. It comprised twenty-two weeks in-country: volunteering, and conducting surveys and interviews. The ensuing data analysis draws on education theory, alternative development theory, and decolonisation theory. Overall I found that the secondary school curriculum is Western-oriented, and focused on getting students into university rather than on preparing them for the kinds of lives they are likely to lead. Students overwhelmingly aspire to university or vocational study, once they leave school. Conceptions of the good life in the three communities centre on social connectedness and opportunities for the next generation. While there is an evident disconnect between the content of available secondary education and local livelihood realities, there have been successful initiatives from within all three communities to expand education over the past twenty years to include local skills and epistemologies. An extension of these efforts to create a more diverse education, with the inclusion of agriculture as a learning topic, could give students the best chance of gaining secure work and leading comfortable lives in the future.