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Record Timor-Leste Graduates in NT Education Program

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SenaiNT graduates at the July 2017 ceremony (Image: Chelsea Heaney)


Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education, in partnership with the Northern Territory Department of Education, is expanding its cross-cultural education overseas, helping to develop vital English language skills in Timor-Leste.

Forty students received Certificate I and Certificate II in Spoken and Written English at the graduation ceremony yesterday in Dili.

Batchelor Institute specialises in cross-cultural communication and education, as a member of the National Indigenous Higher Education Network and with a 40 plus year history of providing Aboriginal education in the Northern Territory.

“Batchelor Institute has well developed courses related to English skills, through its work in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sector over the past 40 years,” said CEO Professor Robert Somerville AM FAIM, a Martu man from Jigalong in Western Australia and one of many Aboriginal leaders within the organisation.

“This is why we have been brought on board for this project, we have an in-depth understanding of teaching in a culturally diverse environment and know how to build capacity within remote areas or in challenging circumstances”.

Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education is working with the Northern Territory Department of Education to deliver Certificate I and Certificate II in Spoken and Written English at the Senai NT English Language Centre in Timor-Leste.

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Batchelor Institute CEO Professor Robert Somerville with the graduates of the SenaiNT program (Image: Chelsea Heaney)


The program has seen significant growth in the last six months, with graduates jumping from 25 in January this year to a record high of 40 students receiving certificates at this latest ceremony today.

“This program is a great example of government and industry working together, and achieving some great outcomes for Australia and the South East Asia region,” said Professor Somerville.

There were over 700 applications for only three classes at SenaiNT next semester, including the Department of Education’s Foundation Skills course, with graduates then able to enter the Seasonal Workers Program.

The Seasonal Worker Program is filling gaps within Australia’s labour market, especially within harvesting times, and is significantly contributing to the economic development of Timor-Leste.

NT farmers are increasingly turning to this initiative with a 33% increase of workers from Timor-Leste and South East Asia employed here last year.

“The NT is a culturally diverse environment and our forty years of experience here has established us as a leading cross-cultural education provider. It has set us up to expand into international programs,” said CEO Professor Robert Somerville AM FAIM.

“This program has a lot of positive flow on effects, both for the NT as well as the South East Asia area”

Batchelor Institute works with the NT Education Department by providing three assistant teachers and ensures the program meets all quality standards as the RTO provider.

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NT Department of Education CEO Vicky Bayliss with a SenaiNT Graduate. (Image: Chelsea Heaney)


Despite numerous hurdles in accessing education, courses are highly valued by students and attendance rates are near perfect. 

Around 62% of Batchelor Institute’s students in Australia speak an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language as their main language at home, with 82% of VET students living in remote or very remote areas of Australia.

Timor Leste is a linguistically diverse country, with the Malayo-Polynesian language Tetum as the official national language, and several other Indigenous languages commonly spoken.

“Our Both-ways learning philosophy, which has been developed through our work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, easily transcends to other cross-cultural and Indigenous education initiatives,” said Professor Somerville.

The SenaiNT Centre programs are filling a critical gap in education in Timor Leste, just 18 years on from gaining independence and only five years after the UN ended its peacekeeping operations.

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Traditional dancing at the SenaiNT graduation ceremony in Dili


Words and images by Chelsea Heaney.