SBS World News Radio: Call for more paid teachers to help Timor-Leste rebuild
In just 15 years, Timor-Leste has reinvigorated its education system, bringing it from near-total destruction to more than 90 per cent student enrolment.
But because of low budgets and a lack of training, many teachers remain volunteers.
At Rainha da Paz school in Dili, Timor-Leste, students are busy learning.
But their teachers are also getting lessons.
They're taking part in teacher training run by Mary MacKillop International.
Alipio Baltazar is the country director of the organisation.
"Most of the teachers, they don't have a background of teaching. So when they come to teach, they teach not by profession but by need."
For 24 years until 1999, Timor-Leste, or East Timor as it was then known, was occupied by neighbouring Indonesia.
That was the year then-Indonesian President BJ Habibie held a referedum vote -- and the people of Timor overwhelmingly voted for independence.
What followed was a violent withdrawal.
As Indonesian troops abandoned the country they enacted a scorched-earth policy.
Thousands of citizens fled as pro-Jakarta forces left buildings in major cities and towns burning.
Many schools were among them.
Former President Jose Ramos-Horta says the government had to start from scratch to build the education system.
"The number of schools - well over 1,000 new schools rebuilt or repaired in the last five years alone."
An estimated 75 per cent of teachers came from Indonesia during the occupation - and returned there before independence.
Jose Ramos-Horta says untrained volunteers stepped in to fill the gap.
But with school enrolment soaring to around 90 per cent of the population, the nation's many volunteers are ill-equipped to prepare the next generation.
"You cannot produce schoolteachers, high quality schoolteachers, in an assembly line, so we have a problem in quality education, quality of teachers. Very few are well-trained."
With money from Australian donors, Mary MacKillop International aims to train the volunteers.
It has put more than 2,000 through training in primary education.
But a growing student body means more paid teachers are needed.
Back at Rainha Da Paz School, mother Apolonia Amaral hopes President Francisco Guterres will invest more in education.
"Yes I do really worry, because the school needs a lot of money to do that."
School principal Joana Barros is a rare salaried teacher.
She, too, wants to see more teachers getting paid but she also supports training more teachers to ensure the next generation has the skills and the knowledge to help themselves and their country.
"The government should actually pay attention to the teacher's salary. But I also think of the children, they need teachers to be educated."