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Promoting access to quality, safe, and relevant education for all persons affected by crisis

EiE Crisis Spotlight: Timor-Leste

Location of Crisis


Timing of Crisis

A military invasion and annexation by Indonesia began in December 1975 which gave way to decades of violence.

Timor-Leste finally declared independence in 2002 but not before Indonesian troops and militias carried out horrific acts of violence in response to a referendum for independence, killing more than 1,000 and causing a quarter of the population to flee.

More fighting broke out in 2006 after a dispute between soldiers and the government in which 25 people were killed and 150,000 displaced.

Affected Populations

At present, only 34% of boys and 39% of girls are enrolled in secondary education. Similary only 1 in 10 children attend pre-school. Many teaches are volunteers and many others have inadequate levels of training and education. For more information, read 'Impact on Education' and 'Needs and Challenges'. 

Brief Description of the Situation

On December 7th, 1975, the Indonesian military invaded and occupied the neighbouring Timor Leste under claims of anti-Communism. It annexed the territory as an Indonesian province, a move met with strong resistance from the Fretilin militians, remnants of Timor Leste's previous government. Frequent bouts of violence broke out, notably the Santa Cruz massacre on December 12th 1991 when Indonesian soldiers opened fire on the funeral of a Freitilin supporter and the accompanying march, killing over 100 people.

John Hession 2010 ©
After the Indonesian President, Suharto, resigned in 1998, his successor, Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie, was more open to giving the territory a degree of independence, offering a referedum on the subject.

On August 30th, 1999, 78.5% of Timor Leste's population voted to seccede from Indonesia but in the days following the referendum, Indonesian militias and soldiers realiated with violence on the population. 1,000 were killed and a quarter of the population fled the province.

After enourmous international condemnation, Australian-led UN peacekeeping forces were allowed into the country on September 12th 1999. The UN Transitional Administration in East Timor  (UNTAET) governed the territory for three years, during which several reconciliation attempts took place, and on May 20th, 2002, Timor Leste declared independence. 

In 2006, fighting broke out after Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri  fired half of the country's soldiers for striking. At least 25 people were killed and around 150,000 were displaced, taking reufuge in camps. Austrialian troops were called in to deal with the unrest and on June 26th the Prime Minister resigned over his handling of the case.

An additional overview of the conflict can be found on BBC News and Infoplease.

The region is also prone to natural disasters. In June 2013 a flood struck Timor Leste, displacing more than 1,000 residents.

Impact on Education

According to the World Bank, the conflict with Indonesia took a massive toll on the country's infrastructure and around 95% of the country's schools were destroyed.

A 2011 Education Cluster report stated: "The country inherited a legacy of underdevelopment and violence and suffered a debilitating crisis in 2006 from which it has not yet fully recovered. The attacks on the President and the Prime Minister by renegade soldiers in February 2008 are evidence of the precarious security situation and political instability."

Great improvements have been made since the conflicts subsideded and, according to UNICEF, since the country joined the Child Friendly School Programme in 2006, enrollment and retention rates have greatly increased.

Graham Crumb 2008 ©
As a result of a Portuguese invasion and occupation in the 1600s, many East Timorians speak Portuguese and many speak Tetum. Both are the official languages of the country but this led to problems with ensuring the curriculum was fair for all. As a result, the government worked with UNESCO to launch a pilot scheme known as 'Mother Tongue-based Multilingual Education for Timor Leste' which ensured that students were taught in their mother tongues. A UNESCO report into the scheme found that although there was a lot of enthusiasm for it from parents, the level of education amongst teachers was often inadequate.
The report concluded: "Most teachers are high school graduates and have limited experience of teaching using modern, child-centered methodologies. Thus, ongoing intensive training is needed. These teachers sometimes find it difficult to absorb knowledge and experience from formal teacher training sessions unless they are provided regularly and are linked to classroom realities and to the precise socio-linguistic backgrounds of both teachers and students in each pilot site".

According to UNICEF, the June 2013 flood affected 2,572 families, 1,700 of which were living in temporary shelters accross four districts but have since returned home. 


Education Actors Responding to the Crisis

  • Belun
  • Salesian Missions
  • World Bank

Needs and Challenges

According to UNICEF, while primary school enrollment has greatly improved over the years and is currently at 86% for boys and girls, secondary school enrollment stands at 34% and 39% for boys and girls, respectively.

According to the East Timorian NGO, Belun, the greatest challenge facing the country is curriculum development and that "many schools are left to fashion their own, using texts and manuals remaining from the period of Indonesian administration or subsequent, incomplete, Government efforts."

It added: "Education past the nationally guaranteed pre-secondary level is extremely difficult for the majority of Timorese students to obtain and fund. Many apply to universities and technical colleges in Indonesia, but even those able to secure a place face obstacles. Some are forced to return without graduating as their families are unable to continue bearing the cost. Others find themselves poorly prepared for the expected level of scholarship" and stated that although there are a limited number of scholarships, there is huge competition for a place."

In 2012, Brookings reported that only 1 in 10 children have the chance to attend pre-school and the quality of education in primary school is not satisfactory:

"More than 70 percent of children cannot read a single word in Portuguese or Tetum at the end of first grade; 40 percent cannot read a single word after two full years of school. Repetition rates are high in the first three grades of school, comprising more than half of the children enrolled. And only 37 percent of children will continue on to secondary school."

Tools and Resources

The following key INEE resource in English and Portuguese can be used to support EiE efforts in Timor-Leste.

  • INEE Minimum Standards Handbook (English, Portuguese)
  • Guidance Note on Conflict Sensitive Education (English)
  • Guidance Notes on Teaching and Learning (English)
  • Guidance Notes on Teacher Compensation (English)
  • Guidance Notes on Safer School Construction (English)
  • Pocket Guide to Gender (English)
  • Pocket Guide to Inclusive Education (English)
  • Pocket Guide to Supporting Learners with Disabilities (English)
  • Guidance on HIV in Education in Emergencies (English)
  • Reference Guide on External Education Financing (English)
  • To access other EiE tools and resources in over 20 languages, please visit the INEE Toolkit.

Key Information Sources

Key Words

Armed Conflict, post-conflict, political turmoil, natural disasters, teacher training, curriculum


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