Reimagining Timor-Leste: Nationalism and the role of education in post-independence nation-building

This thesis examines the role of education in locating nationalism in Timor-Leste’s post-independence nation-building. Historical accounts confirm that education played a central role in the emergence and consolidation of East Timorese pre-independence nationalism, particularly among the younger generation. Nationalism became a powerful unifying and galvanising force in the long struggle for independence. It was grounded in a synergetic combination of external concepts with local cultural symbols that resounded deeply among the Timorese.

What role does nationalism play in post-independence Timor-Leste? How does formal education locate nationalism in the context of nation-building? To address these questions, the thesis examines the general perceptions of nationalism among East Timorese, the role of official languages in national identity, the role of history education in nationalism, and the extent to which national symbols and ceremonies have nurtured students’ sense of, and allegiance to, the nation.

The research has found a fundamental shift in perceptions of nationalism from those shaped by externally-driven factors to an internally-focused and civic nationalism. Other important findings include an asymmetrical development of the two co-official languages, which has rendered Tetun as the language of national identity on the one hand and has seen Portuguese strictly confined to the classrooms on the other. A further finding is the development of national history curriculum that hampers the development of critical perspectives of nationhood and nationalism among students. The thesis concludes that as a social construct, nationalism rises and falls, and suggests that it is up to East Timorese agencies, both state and non-state, to define and locate the role of education in post-independence nation-building, in which a “Timorised” nationalism remains an integral part.

Speaker: Armindo Maia

Updated:  11 August 2020/Responsible Officer:  Bell School Marketing Team/Page Contact:  CAP Web Team