Located among the Indonesian islands near Australia, Timor-Leste is one of the world's newest countries. This small, half-island nation is home to a young and culturally diverse population of just over 1 million.
SIL literacy and education consultants are currently assisting the Timor Leste National Commission for UNESCO with a pilot project for multilingual education in the early grades. Although geographically small, Timor Leste (Democratic Republic of East Timor) is linguistically diverse — the Ethnologue lists nineteen living languages for the country. In recent history, both Portuguese and Bahasa Indonesia have been used as the languages of instruction in the country’s schools, but the National Commission feels that a mother tongue-based multilingual education (MTB MLE) model could be effective for Timor-Leste’s students. Children in the pilot program will first learn to read and write in the language they understand best. As they build on this solid learning foundation, they will also begin to study other languages that can be used as the language of instruction in the later years of school.
SIL is convinced of the value of multilingual education. Multiple studies worldwide demonstrate that learning is most effective when instruction is received in the language the learner knows best. MLE creates a two-way bridge over the cultural and linguistic barriers that can hinder minority language speakers from participation and successful learning within the official school system. SIL’s consultants assist community educators and national program designers in building their capacity to create effective MLE programs.