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Timor Leste

Jesuit college grads trump other students in Timor-Leste

Local authorities say school leading the charge to raise the standard of education across the nation

Thomas Ora, Dili

Thomas Ora, Dili

Updated: February 27, 2019 10:07 AM GMT
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Jesuit college grads trump other students in Timor-Leste

The Superior of the Jesuits in Timor-Leste, Father Joaquim Sarmento (center), inaugurates the first generation of CSIL students on their graduation day in December 2018. (Photo by Santina da Costa Araujo/ucanews.com)

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The Jesuit-run Colegio de Santo Inacio de Loiola (CSIL) has been lauded for having its first batch of graduates pass their exams with flying colors in December, topping most other schools in Timor-Leste.

Some received top honors in the social sciences and natural sciences categories. Most have been accepted at coveted universities in the capital, Dili. A few even got scholarships to study in Japan, South Korea, and Hong Kong.

Ribeiro Soares said he was initially reluctant to attend the "religious college," located in Kasait, west of Dili, but later credited its strict discipline and small class sizes for his academic success.

Each classroom at CSIL is limited to 30 students, which compares favorably with other schools in the country that often have more than 50 students per class.

The third of eight siblings from Bazartete village, about 15 kilometers from the school, Ribeiro said that at first he wanted to study at a regular school, which imposes fewer restrictions on students.

CSIL students and the college's council of parents pose for a photograph on graduation day in December 2018. (Photo by Santina da Costa Araujo/ucanews.com)

 

However, his father, an elementary school teacher, insisted he give it a shot because he knew his son would reap the benefits.

"I wasn't interested, because I heard the Jesuits demand a lot of things, and they are very big on discipline," he said.

"I thought it would be hard for me as in my elementary years I wasn't very good, academically speaking."

But as time went by, Ribeiro transformed from a shy young man with low self-esteem into a chatty, confident teenager earning good grades.

"I studied rigorously every single night," he said.

Apparently, all the hard work paid off. He was named in December as one of the best social science students in the country, and was preparing to start a degree in management at Timor-Leste State University.

"Getting accepted by the university was beyond my imagination. It's certainly due to the Jesuit education," Ribeiro said. It also means his parents will only have to pay US$30 per semester for his university studies.

The first batch of CSIL students sing during their graduation day. (Photo by Santina da Costa Araujo/ucanews.com)

 

Alexandrina Maria Ribeiro Soares, 17, comes from a farming family nearby in Liquiça district. She said she felt fortunate to study at the college.

"It was tough because I had to compete with the other students, who mostly come from affluent families in Dili," she said. "But I managed it."

Fernandito Aldo Soares, 18, recalled the first time he entered the school six years ago.

"I was confused because the buildings were in the jungle. Some classrooms didn't even have windows," he said.

Six years later, he graduated with a new top score in social sciences, breaking a national record that had been in place for years.

He said the discipline implemented by the school not only sharpened him intellectually, but also strengthened bonds among its students.

He said he was forced to plant trees, cut grass, and water the flowers when he failed to hand his homework in on time, and also when he failed an important maths exam.

"But now I can see the positive result of all that," said Fernandito, who recently passed the entrance test to study English at Timor-Leste State University.

Life values

Salvador Jubileano Leano Zota Soares, 18, from Manatuto district, entered CSIL in 2016 after graduating from St. Anthony Junior High School.

He said studying at the college had also been a spiritual journey.

"The education system here is very different, and very helpful," said Salvador, who emerged in December as the natural sciences student with the highest grades in Timor-Leste.

Salvador Jubileano Leano Zota Soares, 18 (left), recently won a scholarship to study chemical engineering at South Korea’s Hanyang University, while Alexandrina Maria Ribeiro Soares, 17, who comes from a farming family, said she never expected to excel academically before she attended the Colegio de Santo Inacio de Loiola (CSIL). (Photo by Thomas Ora/ucanews.com)

 

He said the teachers at CSIL are dedicated to improving their students' futures.

"They not only transfer their knowledge, but also solid values that will guide us through life," he said.

He ended up winning a scholarship to study chemical engineering at South Korea's Hanyang University, the next step in his career plan is to work in Timor-Leste's petroleum industry.

He said the Society of Jesus takes its role as an educator of young people in the country very seriously, molding students into future leaders and cracking down on any bad behavior.

Francisco Martins Barros, a 48-year-old elementary school teacher whose son attends CSIL, said he had never dreamed he would be able to send any of his nine offspring to such a prestigious college.

Meanwhile, the head of Liquica Intermediate Education Office, Zito Antonio de Oliveira da Costa, described CSIL as an answer to the government's dream of raising standards at schools across the board.

Many public schools have a large student body but lack basic equipment and facilities such as chairs, tables, libraries, and laboratories. In contrast, church-run schools tend to be much better equipped, Oliveira da Costa said.

"CSIL's education system serves as a reference point for other schools to benchmark," he said.

More than 740 students are currently studying at CSIL, accompanied by 35 teachers, including two Jesuit priests and a brother.

Assisting village children

Director of CSIL, Jesuit Father Roberto Boholst, said the school welcomes all elementary and junior high school students to apply, but priority is given to those based locally in the Ulmera region.

He said many affluent families in Dili want to send their children there but it was important to balance this by giving rural households a chance, too.

The Philippines-born priest has been in his current post for three years. He explained that the so-called "Ulmera project" initiated in 2016 is a way to allow more students from the provinces to enroll.

It provides intensive courses in Portuguese, English, and mathematics, and offers tutorials on general knowledge, discipline, and computer studies for elementary school children.

To facilitate this, CSIL cooperates with Kasait Public School, which received former U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki-moon during his trip to the country in August 2012.

"The goal is to make them quickly adapt to the system at CSIL and pass the selection process to study at the school," Father Boholts said.

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