Thursday, 25 October 2012

Government should let Catholic Church run education system, says Ramos Horta

Former President DR. Jose ramos Horta Talk about
east Timor education in Melbourne (Photo Ted Mcdonnel)
Tempo Semanal-Melbourne 
By Ted McDonnell in Melbourne 

Former President Jose Ramos Horta has called on the East Timorese government to get serious about the future of the country's education system.

Speaking in Melbourne on Friday at the end of a 14 day lecture tour, Dr
Ramos Horta said that since Independence in 2002 the government's education system has failed many thousands of young people whilst at the same time the Catholic education system has given children a quality education and future.

"The government of Xanana Gusmao needs to urgently reach an agreement with the Catholic Church to manage the education system on behalf of the government. Many of our young children are currently missing out on an education system because the government has failed in this area."

"The government run education system is failing the children and failing the future of East Timor," he added.

A recent study confirms Ramos Horta's view with government schools are lagging far behind the Catholic education system.

Eant timor Children picking up
 rubbish near Rubbish bin. Many Timorese children
still doing work to help their parrents instead of
go to school (Photo Ted Mcdonnel)

Another major issue that has impacted on the education system in East Timor is the continuing squabble over the 'Mother Tongue' language.  While the 'Mother Tongue' debate endures thousands of children are missing out on vital education due to lack of teachers, classes where one teacher is attempting to teach classes of 100 or more children, or one of the biggest problems facing East Timor, children not going to school due to basic poverty.

The issue of education in East Timor, according to Ramos Horta, is vital considering almost 50% of the population is under 20, poverty continues to be rife and unemployment of young people is estimated at 40%.

Despite his obvious exhaustion from back-to-back lectures, Ramos Horta was the special guest in Melbourne for a fundraising evening of 'Hope' held by The Carmelites for the 8,400 children of Zumalai, some 10 hours by four-wheel-drive from Dili. Zumalai is in the centre of 30 villages in the Cova Lima district.

Zumalai mirrors East Timor's education, health system and abysmally poor road networks. Zumalai has just one catholic primary school, three junior secondary schools and one senior school servicing almost 20,000 people -- more than 50% of which are children. 

However, up until recently, Zumalai, and its surrounding villages, had limited access to fresh water, food was difficult to grow, sickness was rife and education for the 8000 plus children was all but non-existent. Enter the Carmelites, a catholic religious order, based in Melbourne, Australia.

The Carmelites have helped deliver fresh water, which has helped cut down the prevalence of disease and sickness, and have most importantly set up a school that delivers an education to thousands of children on a daily basis.

Ramos Horta echoed the belief of the Carmelites that that education is the future for the East Timorese: "Without education young East Timorese have no future, which means East Timor has no future."

Ramos Horta told the hundreds of people attending the fund raiser that the catholic church through the sisters and priests have over many decades helped save and educate the East Timorese people.

"When the world deserted East Timor in its darkest days the Catholic church stood by and protected the people. Now through the Carmelites, the Dominicans and other orders of the Catholic Church they are educating future leaders of East Timor," the Nobel Laureate told the audience.

The Melbourne benefit held by the Carmelites raised around $130,000, which will build three new primary school classrooms at Zumalai's Catholic Primary School; a boarding house to accommodate 15-20 children from outlying villages, many of whom walk up to two hours a day to attend school, as well as fund 10 tertiary scholarships for young adults to attend technical college or university.

The Carmelites also play an integral role in educating future teachers in East Timor.

For Ramos Horta, who lost the Presidency of East Timor this year, his 37 year fight for the freedom of his people continues even though in many ways he now has his personal freedom.

After the end of his five-year term as President, many believed 63-year-old Ramos Horta would focus on his personal ambitions. Retirement and the writing of his long awaited biography was thought to be on the cards.

No one would have blamed him if he finally made time for himself. But not so Jose Ramos Horta. 

Ramos Horta continues to play an integral mentoring role in East Timorese politics and sees enormous promise in the second-term Xanana Gusmao led Coalition government.

He believes corruption and nepotism still are prevalent in East Timor, but Anti Corruption Commissioner Aderito de Jesus Soares and his team are doing a great job in investigating and reigning in corruption.

"We have seen one Minister jailed, which under appeal, and many others are under investigation. The justice system is working in East Timor and will continue to work as the country grows and matures. There is no place for corruption and nepotism in our society."

He adds that Prime Minister Gusmao has the opportunity to leave a great legacy for his country to cure poverty, unemployment and improve the education system. Currently, the country's economy is growing at over 10% per annum -- better than most nations, but it ranks poorly in so far as a business environment. International Finance Corporation ranking it 168 (out of 183) in the 2012 Ease of Doing Business Survey.

East Timor's public expenditure in this financial year will hit a massive $1.67 billion.

He urged the East Timorese and Australian governments to work closely in ensuring Australian aid is spent for the benefit of the people. This year Australian aid for East Timor hit $127 million.

Ramos Horta remains greatly concerned about the situation in West Papua and the crisis in Syria where around 30,000 people have been killed.

When asked whether West Papua could turn into another situation that East Timor endured at the hands of the Indonesians for 25 years, Ramos Horta was at his diplomatic best.

"The world is watching what the Indonesians are doing in West Papua and I have great faith that the Indonesian government will do the right thing by the West Papuan people eventually."

He fears the crisis in Syria will spill over into neighbouring countries and potentially develop into another Iran - Iraq conflict, which last almost the entire 1980s.

The former President is now home in Dili for just 48 hours before once again jetting off to fly the East Timor flag at the United Nations in New York.

For Ramos Horta his fight for the future of East Timor may well be just beginning.

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