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Timor-Leste 1974–1975: Decolonisation, a nation-in-waiting and an adult literacy campaign

  • Estêvão Cabral EMAIL logo


This article contributes to the strand of research within the New Literacy Studies that has investigated the ways in which adult literacy campaigns are bound up with social and political movements. The focus is on the adult literacy campaign initiated in Timor-Leste in 1974, as the process of decolonisation from Portugal got underway. This campaign was based on a Freirean approach to adult literacy and was initiated by Timorese students returning from Lisbon. The article draws on archival research and oral history interviews with people who volunteered to serve as adult literacy tutors at the time. The analysis presented in the main body of the article provides insights into the nature of the training, and into the tutors’ own understandings of the purpose of the campaign and of adult literacy pedagogy. It also draws attention to the difficult conditions in which this short-lived campaign was conducted in 1974 and 1975. The final section of the article details the worsening nature of the conditions encountered after the Indonesian invasion of December 1975 and concludes that, despite the constraints imposed by these conditions, this campaign has had an enduring symbolic legacy in the field of adult literacy education in Timor-Leste.


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Published Online: 2019-10-26
Published in Print: 2019-11-26

© 2019 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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