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Projects >  East Timor > Education Projects

Architecture In Developing Countries

Education Projects

East Timor


A World Bank mission, of which I was a part, visited East Timor in March and April 2000 to prepare the proposed school renovation and reconstruction projects.

The first priority for the mission was to establish the condition of the primary and secondary school facilities and whether any were in a usable condition.

My primary task therefore was to work with the group of public works engineers who had been contracted by a previous mission to inspect 36 typical damaged schools as the first round in a programme of nation-wide inspections; to travel to the field with the engineers to observe school conditions and the inspection process; to work with the engineers in considering the kind of reconstruction needed to bring school buildings up to a higher level of quality and to prepare a training programme and work plan for the engineers for the inspection of all of the remaining schools in the country.

See the attached document ‘Guidelines & Standard Forms for Use in the Survey of the Physical Condition of Primary Schools’ that I developed for the use of the engineers in surveying and assessing the condition of the existing schools in the country.

I was also involved, together with the rest of the World Bank team, in planning the projects that would be necessary to re-build the primary and secondary education infrastructure in the country.

By the end of the mission it had been decided, in consultation with the group of Timorese educators who were in the process of re-establishing the Ministry of Education, to have three successive but overlapping education projects which were initially known as the:

  • School System Revitalisation Project I (SSRP I), the Emergency School Readiness Project which was to concentrate on getting schools ready for use by October 2000 when the new school year was to start. 

  • School System Revitalisation Project II (SSRP II), the Fundamental School Quality Project which was to concentrate on raising the standard of construction of all schools in the country over an extended period.

  • School System Revitalisation Project III (SSRP III), the Enhanced School Quality Project which was to concentrate on raising the quality of teaching and student learning outcomes using block grants to schools.

In the event, I worked on the first two projects for the next three years.

Emergency School Readiness Project

The first project was designed at a time when there was very little information on either the number and condition of schools or the actual number of school children.  Based upon the information available, it was planned to carry out basic renovations using community participation to 2,100 classrooms in 700 schools and it was estimated that if these classrooms were used in double shifts they would provide accommodation for all primary and junior secondary school pupils.

It should be noted that there was a desperate need for a school mapping exercise to be carried out in order that the location, school population and condition of all schools in the country could be established.  The Portuguese government eventually agreed to fund such an exercise using a firm of Portuguese consultants.  The firm carried out a very comprehensive survey and produced a lot of beautiful digital maps showing all of the schools and school populations.  Unfortunately, all of the information was in Portuguese and the consultants did not carry out any training of education ministry staff in how to update the information or even leave them with the tools for doing so.  The digital maps therefore quickly became out of date (because of population movements, the renovation of existing schools and the construction of new ones) and the school mapping exercise (which cost a great deal of money, in the order of USD 1 million) was probably a complete waste of resources.  A lot of lessons to be learned here!

In the event, 2,780 classrooms in 535 schools were renovated but the double shift system was not instigated and there was still therefore a large shortfall in the number of classroom spaces available.  It was estimated that only 52% of the estimated 235,000 primary and secondary school pupils were at that point accommodated and another 2,550 classrooms needed to be renovated.

In many primary schools only three of the six existing classrooms had been renovated because of the emphasis on double-shifting and at all schools only very basic renovations were carried out with the provision of new roofs, repairs to walls and floors, new doors and mesh windows and painting.

The school renovations were managed by an Australian firm of consultants funded by AusAid.  This firm also designed and supervised the construction of four new prototype schools, two primary and two junior secondary schools. These designs were however considered to be very complicated, expensive and inappropriate to the requirements of East Timor.

For example, a basic rule in the design of buildings in tropical zones is that they should, if at all possible, be oriented with the main facades facing north or south.  This is to reduce the amount of solar penetration into the rooms. Large roof overhangs, window hoods or other devices are then used in conjunction with the orientation to reduce solar penetration and solar gain still further.

The prototype schools were however designed in a ‘U-shape’ around a central courtyard with the result that at least six classrooms must inevitably face east or west.  The problem of solar penetration was compounded by the use of polycarbonate panels at high levels in the walls above the veranda roof with no protection from solar penetration.  This would inevitably lead to overheating in the classrooms in the morning or afternoon causing discomfort to pupils and staff.

There was a further problem in that the layout of the prototype schools was very rigid and variations in the layout and in the levels of the buildings would have been difficult to achieve.  The layout had the Administration Unit in the centre of the complex with fixed links to the other buildings.  These buildings in their turn had fixed links at their corners to the remaining two buildings.  There was therefore no allowance in the design for variations in the layout of the buildings that might be necessary due to site conditions or changes in level between buildings.  It was proposed to use these standard designs on many different sites around the country, allowance should have been made for different site layouts and orientations, different access points, changes in level, steps, etc.

There was also no accommodation provided for teachers and administration staff and no storage provision for school equipment such as agricultural and sports equipment.  I made a number of proposals for improving the designs to reduce solar penetration and provide flexibility in the layouts but most of these were not taken up by the consultants.

See the photo gallery for photos of some of the original prototype schools and the attached file that shows the changes that I proposed to the design and layout of the junior secondary schools.

See the attached files, 'Prototype Schools' for photos of the prototype junior secondary schools and 'Proposals for Revised Designs' for details of the changes that I proposed to the design and layout of the junior secondary schools that were not unfortunately taken up.

School Furniture

During my second visit to East Timor in 2000, I was asked to make proposals for the supply of school furniture which had been largely destroyed before the Indonesians had left.  It was agreed with the Bank and the Timorese education officials that the furniture should be simple to make and maintain and should if at all possible, be made locally where it could contribute to local employment.

I proposed, and it was agreed, that we should use the UNICEF design for the chairs that I had used in Sierra Leone together with the design that I had developed for desks.  There was no information available on the standing heights of local children on which to base the sizing of the furniture and, after unsuccessfully trying to get UNICEF to carry out a survey of school children, I myself went out and measured a random sample of children which I used as the basis for providing 4 sizes of school furniture, two for primary schools and two for junior secondary schools.

For details of the furniture, see the school furniture details in the ‘Resources’ section of this web-site and photos of the furniture supplied to schools in the photo gallery.

The furniture was made of timber components made either in East Timor or abroad which were delivered to district sites in flat packs and then sent out to the schools where they were assembled by local carpenters.  Technical assistance was given to carpenters’ co-ops by experts funded by AusAID.

A total of 57,234 sets of classroom furniture kits (32,234 sets consisted of two chairs and a double desk for primary schools; 25,000 sets consisted of a chair and a single desk for junior secondary schools; enough for 89,468 students) were eventually ordered and delivered to the schools.

Towards the end of the project, when it became apparent that some funds were left over, a further 18,000 sets of furniture (13,000 double desks and two chairs and 5,000 single desks and chairs; enough for 28,000 students) were ordered.

A total of 2,000 sets of teachers’ furniture (each set consisting of one chair, one desk and one cupboard which were assembled after delivery) was also manufactured locally and delivered to schools.

Project Achievements

The project objectives were largely achieved: 25% more classrooms were renovated than originally planned and five new prototype primary and junior secondary schools were built as against the four that were planned; the procurement of school furniture was very successful with more furniture than originally planned for being delivered to schools; much of the furniture was produced in the country and the skills of many local carpenters were improved.

Fundamental School Quality Project

The second project was designed on the assumption that sufficient classrooms would have been renovated to basic levels in the first project to accommodate all primary and junior secondary school pupils.  The objective of the second project was therefore to improve the quality of a smaller number of primary and junior secondary schools by constructing new facilities for them and it was proposed that these schools would serve as models for future school construction.

This concept was altered during the preparation of the second project with the introduction of the ‘Escola Basica’ which was to be a combined primary and junior secondary school that would share some facilities. The project as finally designed was for the construction of thirteen new Escola Basicas (one in each district) and sixty five new primary schools (five in each district).

Construction costs in East Timor at the time of both the first and second projects were very high as all materials apart from sand and stone had to be imported together with most of the skilled labour and management expertise that was required.  There were very few if any really competent local contractors and very few skilled artisans especially outside of Dili, the capital.  Even the number of foreign contractors that were then based in East Timor were insufficient for the amount of construction work that was necessary to re-build all sectors of the economy and this was a factor in driving construction up.

The management of the design of the schools and the preparation of the bidding documents was different to that used in the first project.  A Portuguese project architect and local, expatriate engineers and quantity surveyors were hired by the project implementation unit to prepare designs and bidding documents for both types of schools.

The designs that I developed during the preparation of the second project were for very simple, economic buildings but the consultants that had been hired were to a large extent young and inexperienced in this sort of work and their designs were initially over-complicated and expensive and the estimated cost for each Escola Basica was US$800,000 and each primary school was US$200,000.

A lot of work was put in by myself during several missions to simplify the designs and make them less expensive but the final designs, while being very interesting architecturally, remained expensive which of course reduced the number of schools that could be built at a time when a great many new schools were still required.  My view is that, in a situation such as existed then in East Timor where the construction of a great many new schools very quickly was required, then ‘Architecture’ should not be the first priority.

The budgets for both types of schools were also reduced by the Ministry of Education but the scope of the work was not which of course led to further problems. Disagreements over both the design of the schools and over the budgets eventually led to me stopping work on the education projects.

See the photo gallery for photos of some of the Escola Basicas constructed under the Fundamental School Quality Project. 

See the photo gallery for photos of some of the Escola Primaria (primary schools) constructed under the Fundamental School Quality Project and the attached file of the same name for drawings of typical Ecola Basica and Escola Primeria classrooms

Project Gallery

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