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LESLLA in Timor-Leste: Progress in adult literacy. Danielle Boon Department of Culture Studies Babylon – Centre for Studies of the Multicultural Society. 27-08-2010 LESLLA 2010 Cologne, Germany. BECOMING A NATION OF READERS: Adult Literacy Past and Present in Multilingual Timor-Leste.

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LESLLA in Timor-Leste: Progress in adult literacy

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LESLLA in Timor-Leste: Progress in adult literacy

Danielle Boon

Department of Culture Studies

Babylon – Centre for Studies of the Multicultural Society



Cologne, Germany

BECOMING A NATION OF READERS: Adult Literacy Past and Present in Multilingual Timor-Leste

Sjaak Kroon, Jeanne Kurvers (Tilburg University)

Marilyn Martin-Jones (University of Birmingham)

Aone Van Engelenhoven (Leiden University)

Estêvão Cabralstudy 1

Danielle Boonstudy 2

Edegar da Conceição Savio study 3

Research plan 4/2009-4/2014

Study 1:

critical historical study on adult literacy in TL

Study 2:

adult literacy in TL in Tetum and Portuguese

Study 3:

Fataluku language development and adult literacy

Funding and collaboration

This project is funded by NWO/WOTRO

Science for Global Development, under file number W 01.65.315.00.

  • Research takes place in collaboration with:

  • National Institute of Linguistics (INL) at the National University of Timor-Lorosa’e (UNTL)

  • Timor-Leste’s Ministry of Education, Directorate of Non-Formal Education

  • Various local NGOs, UNICEF, ILO, etc.

Where is Timor-Leste?

Map Timor-Leste

13 districts

Until 1975: Portuguese colony

1975-1999: Indonesian occupation

1999-2002: Interim government UN

May 2002:independent

History of Timor-Leste

2 official languages:

Portuguese and Tetum

15 national languages

‘to be further developed by the state’

English and Bahasa Indonesia

accepted as ‘working languages’

Constitution 2002: multilingual Timor-Leste

Austronesian group:

Habun, Galoli, Atauran, Kawaimina, Welaun, Idalaka, Mambai, Kemak, Tokodede, Baikenu, Makuva, (Tetum)

Papua group:

Bunak, Makasai, Makalero, Fataluku

15 national languages

Source: “Mai Kolia Tetun”, Geoffrey Hull,

4th edition, 2003, SASP.

Local dialect

National language

Tetum (lingua franca)


Bahasa Indonesia


L1, L2, L3, L4…

50.1% of 15 years and older

women: 43.9 %

men: 56.3 %


TL HDR 2006, pop. census 2004

Ambition in the

National Development Plan 2002:

Literate population in 2020

Adult literacy rates

“Adult literacy in TL in Tetum and Portuguese”

research questions

1. How effective is learning to read and write in Tetum and Portuguese in the available adult literacy programmes and what factors are most important in this respect? What is the impact of learning to read and write on the daily lives of the learners?2. What classroom-based literacy teaching-learning processes are adult literacy learners in Tetum and Portuguese involved in and what ideas guide teachers’ practices?3. What literacy practices and values in Tetum and Portuguese do adult learners draw on in social domains such as work (agriculture, health, shop-keeping etc.), leisure time, church and home?

Socio-cultural perspective

Cognitive-linguistic perspective

Perspectives on literacy:

Study includes:

SURVEY with 400 learners and 50 teachers (11/2009-3/2011)

  • Reading and writing tests

  • Questionnaires and (in depth) interviews

    CASE STUDY on 4 sites (T & P, urban & rural) (2011)

  • Observation, video/audio-recording, still photography, field notes, diaries, document analysis


Ministry of Education


various NGOs

Literacy programs for adults in Timor-Leste

  • Mostly in Tetum,

  • sometimes in Portuguese,

  • sometimes in Tetum and a national language.

Methods & Materials

‘Los Hau Bele’ (Cub.)

  • 3 months

  • 65 lessons on DvD, 1 st. manual 16p, 1 t. manual

  • Letters & sounds, letter combinations, words & short phrases

  • Linking of letters with numbers

    ‘Hakat ba Oin’ & ‘Iha Dalan’

  • 6 months & 6 months

  • Beg.: 4 st. manuals (400p) & 1 t. manual Adv.: 2 st. manuals (300p) & 1 t. manual

  • Letters & sounds, analysis-synthesis

  • Words > phrases > texts - thematic

Teachers (353 questionnaires)

Relatively low educated

Relatively little experience

Lack of teacher training

First language mostly one of the national languages

Weak proficiency in (st.) Tetum writing and in Portuguese

Teaching circumstances

Mostly no classroom available

Often no electricity

Often not enough chairs

Mostly not enough tables

Sometimes not enough notebooks, pencils, etc.

Hardly any reading materials


225 tested in Nov.-Dec. 2009,

(of whom 76 tested again in Feb.-March 2010)

359 tested in July-Aug. 2010

584 in total


322 never had any education and never did a literacy course before

Age: from 7 to 76, 40% younger than 30

Sex: 216 women, 106 men

L1:9x Tetum, rest another national language

Tetum speaker? 111 no, 211 yes

Reading and writing tasks

  • Grapheme recognition: 30 graphemes, of which 23 used in Tetum and Portuguese, 3 only in Tetum, 3 only in Portuguese, 1 in neither T nor P but frequently in Indonesian.

  • Word reading: 3 minutes, 80 words max., first 10 occur in all basic literacy courses, next 60 seleced from newspapers and a widely read magazine, last 10 loanwords from Portuguese spelled according to Standard Tetum rules.

  • Word writing: 10 words read out loud: uma (house), paun (bread), ka (or), sei (will), iha (there is/are), hotu (all), hanoin (think), dadauk (at present, continuous action marker), tarutu (noise), bainhira (when).

  • Filling out forms: name, birth date, village, sub district, district, first language, second language, signature, complete the sentence (“I want to learn to read and write because …”).

Reading & writing after 3 months: (means, n=205)

  • Grapheme recognition:15

  • Word reading:15

  • Form filling:4.2

  • Word writing:3.8

Problems in tasks: (1)

Grapheme recognition:

Problems in tasks: (2)

Word reading:

  • lakleur (soon), kria (make)

  • joven (young), serve (useful)

  • hakilar, hateten, hanesan (shout, tell, same)

  • bainhira (when), nakfakar (spill)

    Filling forms: birth date

    Writing words:

  • paun/pão (bread),

  • sei (will) > cei

  • dadauk (now) > dadaku

Pearson Correlations literacy abilities (n=322, *=p<.05, **=p<.01)

Pearson Correlations literacy abilities with learner and teacher characteristics (n=322) *=p<.05, **=p<.01

Means and standard deviations scores literacy tasks for learners speaking Tetum (n = 137 ) and not speaking Tetum (n = 67 )

Progress learners after 3 months


  • The four reading and writing tasks correlate highly with one another; all contribute to the image of beginning literacy, technical and functional tasks are interrelated.

  • Task results show large individual differences in literacy level; adult literacy groups are very heterogeneous.

  • There’s a correlation between literacy results and: - learner characteristics like age; - teachers characteristics.

  • The learners tested twice show progress in 3 months time on all four tasks.

  • Learning to read and write in a language that learners already speak/know (Tetum) seems to be an important indicator of success.

Obrigadu barak!

[email protected]

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