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Improving teaching quality and effectiveness in Timor-Leste
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Improving teaching quality and effectiveness in Timor-Leste

Research 8 minute read

New report finds school-based peer learning groups in Timor-Leste help to improve teaching quality, leadership, knowledge, professionalism and practice.

A major finding from the second report of a multi-year study into teacher development in Timor-Leste is that school leader and mentor support alongside peer learning, improves teaching quality and effectiveness. This is the result of teachers contributing their experiences and learning from each other through the Grupu Traballu ba Professor (GTP), and school leaders sharing the knowledge they have acquired through a leadership training program.

The GTPs are school-based professional peer learning groups that involve teachers across a cluster of schools meeting regularly to learn from each other, discuss common issues and solve problems. They typically involve teaching simulations and feedback, and small group discussions with teachers grouped by grade and subjects taught.

Funded by the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the study seeks to understand the extent to which education stakeholders, including school leaders and teachers, develop teaching knowledge and change practices over time. It also explores whether participation in the Apoio Lideransa liuhusi Mentoria no Aprendizajen (ALMA) program – known as the Professional Learning and Mentoring Program until 2019 – leads to improvements in learning outcomes for students.

As part of the Australia–Timor-Leste Partnership for Human Development, the main components of ALMA are leadership training, peer learning groups, mentoring and the use of tablet-based applications to support school leaders and mentors. This study is framed within the context of Timor-Leste’s new National Basic Education Curriculum from Grades 1 to 6, which incorporates a child-centred approach to teaching and learning.

The findings of the report are based on case studies of teachers, school leaders and municipal level education stakeholders in Bobonaro and Viqueque, and interviews with senior education stakeholders from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport. Located in the far west of the country, limited access to electricity and telecommunications present challenges for schools in Bobonaro. Limited human and physical resourcing and overcrowded classes also create difficult learning environments.

In Viqueque – a mountainous region in the east – many remote schools struggle with inconsistent access to the internet and poor mobile phone signals. Long distances between schools, overcrowded classrooms, limited teaching and learning resources and decaying infrastructure also present challenges.

Teachers, school leaders and municipal level education stakeholders across both municipalities found the GTPs effective in strengthening teacher knowledge on lesson planning, subject matter and pedagogical approaches. The important role of GTPs in discussing challenges and solving problems at schools or in clusters and building capacity by sharing ideas and reflection, was also highlighted.  

‘GTP always helps, whatever challenges we face in our teaching period and we cannot solve them alone, through GTP we can do it together,’ says a teacher from Viqueque.

Multiple respondents identified the GTP as instrumental in providing a place for teachers from various schools to collaborate and actively support each other, enabling them able to draw on a wider pool of expertise across particular subject areas.
‘If we are really facing a problem, then we can start to understand it at the GTP. Because all the schools come together, so there are teachers with more experience than us and they can explain it clearly,’ says a teacher from Bobonaro.

By enabling teachers to share and troubleshoot challenges, the GTPs have provided an opportunity to discuss and reflect on teaching practice. Changes towards student-centred learning and improved adherence to the curriculum were specifically mentioned as examples of improved practice.

ALMA has reportedly helped many teachers incorporate strategies to encourage student participation. Teachers are facilitating group activities, incorporating discovery learning approaches, providing targeted support to students and encouraging student contributions in class discussions. One school leader attributed the incorporation of discovery learning to the GTP.

‘I think there have been lots of changes. You can see it in their teaching practice, in their method. For example, for science, they don’t just talk they take the students outside for practical things...The GTP solves problems.’

Improvements in the professionalism of teachers have been attributed to the GTPs – by enabling them to acquire the subject matter and pedagogical knowledge required to effectively prepare lessons. As a result, school leaders and municipal level education stakeholders have observed greater focus on preparing lesson plans from ALMA participating schools, compared to those who have not participated.

In both municipalities, the GTP has enabled school leaders to improve and share the knowledge gained in leadership training with their peers. The combination of these two activities provides a valuable forum for building the capacity of teachers without access to professional development opportunities.

The GTPs were consistently highlighted as an effective component of ALMA, with the potential to contribute to its sustainability. However, many were not active at the time of data collection and either had not been run at all, or infrequently in 2019.

Despite multiple teachers requesting to continue the GTPs, there are significant barriers to ongoing facilitation including travel distance, road conditions, weather and competing commitments including training and school-related activities scheduled on Saturdays. Reliance on municipal and school leaders to coordinate and limited financial and teaching resources may impact the continuation of the GTPs.

The report recommended consideration of periodic resourcing to assist with peer learning activities. Continuing some components at a school community level in less-costly ways, such as rotated GTPs and within-school GTP models was also recommended. Other strategies could include introducing ‘check ins’ with municipal and school leaders using education technology, when there is an extended period between classroom observations or GTPs.

The importance of the GTPs in improving teacher quality and effectiveness is just one of the findings from the second year of this study. For the full findings and recommendations, read the Teacher Development Multi-Year Study Series: Timor-Leste Interim Report 2.

Teacher Development Multi-Year Series
The study in Timor-Leste is part of the Teacher Development Multi-Year Series, a long-term, multi-country study to determine the extent to which Australian investments improve teaching quality and student learning. DFAT has commissioned ACER to conduct the study.

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