Waikato receives funding for East Timor technological leap

8 September 2010

East Timor

Technological leap: Waikato University's Dr Roger Barnard (second from the right) with colleagues from UNTL.

A linguistics team from the University of Waikato has been granted funding of more than $10,000 from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Seriously Asia programme which will allow the team to create a technological leap in an English language curriculum project designed for East Timor.

The Waikato University team, led by Dr James McLellan and Dr Roger Barnard, started working with the University of East Timor, Universidade Nacional Timor Lorosa’e (UNTL), in 2006 to develop an English language programme for teachers in training.

The new funding will allow the team to develop computer-based teaching materials using flexible language acquisition (FLAX) software available through Waikato University’s internationally-acclaimed Greenstone Digital Library suite of programs.

Drs McLellan and Barnard say the English language curriculum project is contributing towards rebuilding a newly-independent nation that is still deeply affected by the consequences of 30 years of occupation and administration by Indonesia.

East Timor is one of the poorest countries in the world. School and university text books are in short supply, and even though its official languages are Portuguese and Tetun, most of its teaching materials are in Indonesian, with an increasing number in Portuguese.

Unfortunately, few teachers and students speak Portuguese, and there are no written materials or teaching programmes in the native Tetun language. That makes English a vital lingua franca, says Dr Barnard. “English is a working language in East Timor,” he says. “A recognised English language qualification is seen as vital for East Timorese to move into employment with international agencies and businesses operating in their own country, or to higher education overseas.”

Dr Barnard says the technological leap to computer-based teaching materials for English has some big advantages for a country like East Timor. “It overcomes the lack of money for books, and the need to maintain a low carbon footprint,” he says. “It also provides experience in using a suite of software programs that could be extended to providing teaching materials for other parts of East Timor’s curriculum.”

Dr Barnard says New Zealand’s experience in revitalising the Maori language through Kōhanga Reo might also prove valuable for assisting East Timor to revitalise Tetun and 20 other indigenous languages.

Dr McLellan is in East Timor this month to work with lecturers at UNTL undertaking projects to support the development of computer-based teaching materials.

The English language curriculum project was originally established with funding from the Asia New Zealand Foundation, and supported by the University of Waikato.

The new Seriously Asia funding also enables the Waikato University team to continue work required to gain international accreditation for the curriculum through the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR).

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