This paper analyzes the impact of conflict and forced displacement on educational outcomes in Timor Leste, focusing on the last wave of violence in 1999 during the withdrawal of Indonesian troops from the territory. The authors examine the short-term impact of the 1999 violence on school attendance in 2001 and its longer-term impact on primary school completion rates of the same cohorts of children when observed again in 2007. The authors compare the longer-term educational impact of the 1999 violence with the impact of other periods of high-intensity violence (1975-1979 and 1983) during the 25 years of Indonesian occupation and with the overall average educational impact of the conflict. Since most individuals in Timor Leste (approximately 65 percent) have at most only primary school education, the authors focus on primary school outcomes. Two channels of exposure to violence are considered: (a) individuals belonging to households who were displaced due to the 1999 violence; and (b) individuals belonging to households that reported homes completely destroyed due to the 1999 violence.
The analysis relies on data drawn from two nationally representative household surveys collected in 2001 and 2007. The authors also exploit data on the number of killings collected in the Human Rights Violations Database to identify districts and years that experienced high intensities of violence. The number of killings largely corresponds to the movements of the Indonesian military operations, and also proxies for the destruction of homes and infrastructure and the displacement of people during the 1999 wave of violence.
In line with the existing literature on the effects of violent conflict on educational outcomes, the authors find that the conflict in Timor Leste led to considerable adverse impacts on educational outcomes, particularly among boys exposed to violence and forced displacement.
- Overall, displacement during the 1999 wave of violence had an adverse impact on school attendance in the 2000/01 academic year. Primary school attendance rates for children affected by displacement alone were 8.5 percentage points lower on average, with stronger effects for boys. Children affected by both displacement and destruction of homes experienced a reduction in school attendance of 13.3 percentage points on average, with girls being more severely affected. The effects were larger for younger children.
- In the longer term, the 1999 wave of violence led to persistent negative effects on primary school attendance and completion rates among boys. Boys exposed to the 1999 violence during their primary school years were 18.3 percentage points less likely to have completed primary school in 2007 relative to boys who were not exposed to violence. Among girls, however, there was a rapid recovery in educational outcomes. Girls exposed to the 1999 violence were 10.4 percentage points more likely to have completed primary school in 2007.
- High intensity violence in the 1970s and 1980s also led to persistent negative effects on primary school attendance and completion rates among boys. Boys exposed to violence were, on average, 5.6 percentage points less likely to complete primary school. Boys attending the last three years of primary school (grades four to six) during the violence were most affected. There was no significant effect found for girls.
- Overall, boys exposed to violence in any period were, on average, 7.4 percentage points less likely to complete primary school in 2007 than those less exposed to violence. This represents a 10 percent decrease in the probability of primary school completion for boys. The effect is stronger among boys during the last three years of primary school. The overall effect on girls is positive (most likely driven by the 1999 effects), corresponding to an 8.5 percent increase in the likelihood of primary school completion.
On average, the wave of violence in 1999 resulted in immediate hardships for the education of boys and girls. Girls, however, recovered from the negative consequences of the 1999 violence in the medium-term. By 2007, girls affected by the conflict had a higher chance of completing primary school than girls who were not exposed to the violence. While the authors find no effect of the earlier peaks of violence on girls’ primary school completion rates, they find a positive and statistically significant effect (at 10 percent) of the entire conflict on girls’ primary school completion rates. The authors suggest that the post-conflict reconstruction of the education system in conflict-affected areas had positive impacts on the educational outcomes of girls exposed to violence, possibly because of a strong consideration of gender concerns in UN education programs in Timor Leste.
In contrast, boys exposed to the wave of violence in 1999 had a much lower probability of having completed primary school by 2007 relative to boys unaffected by the violence. Earlier peaks of violence as well as the entire conflict had similar negative effects on the educational outcomes of boys, particularly among boys attending the last grades of primary school. Evidence suggests that household economic needs may have resulted in boys dropping out of school, which may explain the negative impact of the conflict on boys’ education. It is also possible that a small number of young boys may have dropped out of school to join armed groups.