Don't Forsake Tamil Schools|
Contributed by Anonymous on Wednesday, December 15 @ 08:18:58 CST
Vasanthi Ramachandran |
New Straits Times (Malaysia)
Sept. 16, 2002
Woman in My Own Write
TAMIL schools have received much scrutiny lately, amidst the controversy of
science and mathematics being taught in English in primary schools. I started
off writing about the English language as a yardstick for global competency
but I refrained from this myopic vision to write about Tamil schools instead.
I know enough is said but little done about the Tamil school-going child and
his limited choices. It is not that we do not notice this child. But because
he has been there for so long, he has become part of an accepted landscape of
many neglected issues - inadequate schools being one of them. The Indians' economic
disparity is reflected in Tamil classrooms and is entrenched among other grievances.
Just like every ethnic conscious Indian, I asked others what they thought of
Tamil schools. As expected, they dismissed it with disillusionment - get rid
of all Tamil schools and replace them with national schools.
Undoubtedly such a dismissal from the rising middle class is not due to a lack
of concern for our cultural roots but rather a personal conviction and a social
sensitivity towards the young Indian who deserves better.
There are success stories which are the exceptions. For instance, two of my
friends, a cardiologist and a recently returned scholar from abroad, seem to
differ in their opinion.
Both studied in Tamil primary schools and believe that the institution should
be preserved but equipped with better facilities. Agreed. We need answers to
many critical questions before we can even start thinking about the consequences
of closing Tamil schools. It is so easy to break an institution but truly difficult
to create another.
Though we cannot romanticise Tamil schools, we cannot dismiss them as a relic
of the past either. Tamil schools have a history, a cultural heritage and their
own charm. To begin with, it is not the fault of the 500 odd Tamil schools that
more than half of them are in deplorable conditions with a few being hazardous
The reality is these schools are within the canvas of economic inequities where
sometimes the choice is between going to an impoverished school or having no
education at all. The curriculum may incorporate daily sports activities but
there is no field, there may be some donated computers but no electricity, eager
students but few qualified teachers or other facilities.
The students who go there are also ones who do not have wholesome meals or a
reasonable standard of living. Now and then, shocking stories of child labour
surface and fade with little investigation.
Alas, the lack of educational opportunities is also cited as the main cause
for persistent social ills.
I agree that we want to be a class of people who are still Indian in blood,
Malaysian in values and global in intellect. All the same we must have a passion
to pursue anything that is a measure of success in the modern world.
Personally, I feel that since less is available in Tamil schools, less is sought
as well by them.
We have to address this issue - why are Tamil schools not as adequately equipped
as national schools? Are the former not doing well because of the lack of facilities,
teachers, and other funds?
What happens to the majority of Malaysians educated in Tamil schools. How many
of these students remain in the national educational system till they reach
secondary and tertiary levels of education or benefit from the system beyond
the secondary level of education?
I believe that the young Indian must derive his self worth from his cultural
roots and have the desire for personal advancement.
There has to be a conscious attempt, or more so an attempt with a conscience
to give the downtrodden young Indian child equal opportunities to a basic education.
Perhaps the most important of all is that we should lobby the Government to
Bulldozing Tamil schools is not an answer. What we need is adequate investment
in Tamil education to enable its students to keep pace with students in national
We need a vision for the future of our children. There is no excuse for not
ensuring that every village, every district and every estate has a well - equipped
school with proper teachers.
I believe that primary education will determine the future of our country. It
should command a far larger a component of our National Budget than it does
today because the future of a civilisation is written on the walls of a primary
school. The writer is the author of a parenting book, "And the Winner is..."
and is a speaker on women and children's issues.
Transforming Tamil Schools
New Straits Times (Malaysia)
April 13, 2003
WHEN People's Progressive Party president Datuk M. Kayveas was quoted in a Chinese
daily as saying that Tamil schools should be closed because they found it difficult
to develop talent for the country and many were operating under trying conditions,
he created a furore among the Indian community. Leaders from the MIC criticised
him and a member of the DAP Socialist Youth lodged a police report claiming
he had violated the Sedition Act.
In response, the PPP president said that he had not called for the closure of
Tamil schools, claiming that he had been misquoted and his remarks taken out
of context. When criticisms continued, he "clarified" what he said.
His "clarification" consisted of two predictions. Firstly, he predicted
that at the "rate the Tamil schools are progressing, they will die a natural
death. There is no need to close them down." Secondly,he predicted that
the Tamil language would slowly diminish and that in another 10 to 20 years
it might no longer be used at all by Malaysian Indians. When the "clarification"
did not seem to appease his critics, he revealed plans to lodge a police report
against the political parties which had lodged police reports against him and
to sue a Tamil daily for hurling "baseless allegations".
Kayveas is well aware that vernacular schools are guaranteed by the Federal
Constitution. As he put it, "Who am I to say that all primary schools must
be closed, as claimed by DAPSY in their report?" Politicians are no strangers
to controversy and a seasoned politician like Kayveas would have known that
language is a very emotive issue and particularly susceptible to being politicised.
The delirious opposition expressed by cultural activists towards the move to
teach Science and Mathematics in
English is an example of the potentially explosive nature of the politics of
The PPP president's "clarification" has further muddied the waters
of dissension raised by his earlier statements. Since language is such an important
marker of identity and vernacular schools are regarded as transmitters and custodians
of culture, doomsday predictions of their demise can only serve to stoke the
fire of controversy. It does not help matters when such crystal-gazing is accompanied
by dire warnings that Indians are "slowly becoming third-class citizens".
Relations between members of the ruling political coalition are not helped when
the polemic is accompanied by statements such as, "If Tamil schools are
doing well, why aren't MIC leaders sending their children to these schools?"
Although it is acceptable for the PPP and MIC to compete with each other by
taking different positions on issues which affect the Indian community, this
should not occur at the expense of jeopardising the coherence of the Barisan
Nasional. As Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said earlier this week, "I
have always spoken on the need for coalition members to remain strong and problems
to be resolved fast, besides avoiding intra-party disputes. I hope such disputes
will stop." His advice should be heeded.
Vernacular schools exist not only as constitutionally protected symbols of identity
but also in recognition of the importance of the mother tongue when children
begin school. Education has tremendous power to transform, but the often forbidding
physical and learning environment of many Tamil schools can have a reverse effect.
This is why all the parties concerned should instead devote their energies to
overcoming the many problems that beset the Tamil schools, ranging from declining
enrolments and low levels of achievement to dilapidated buildings and inadequate
Tamil schools: parents know best
Dec 13, 04 3:20pm Malaysiakini
The recent spate of letters on Tamil schools are recycling the same old and
rather tiring argument that closing down Tamil schools will do wonders for the
As usual, facts have become the casualty. Some proponents claim that Tamil
schools exist due to the continued manipulation by MIC politicians. The fact
is, Tamil schools, in their current tinkered form, continue to exist because
the majority of Tamil parents want to and are comfortable sending their children
National primary schools are not exactly friendly to Indian children from working
They often endure racial abuses in national schools. Remember
the malaysiakini story on how poor Tamil children from squatter areas were being
treated in a national primary school?
It is not an isolated incident. Of course, the government would deny the problem
although the Suhakam annual report for 2003 found that 63.6 percent of students
feel discriminated in schools and this was mainly racial discrimination.
Let me re-emphasise.
As one Elanjelian had pointed out, for poor Indian children,
it's either Tamil education or no education at all.
Sivam Sengodan gripes about the lack of language proficiency among Tamil school
children. That argument may have held water in the past. It is a comedy to repeat
the claim now especially after the MIC abetted in tinkering with the Tamil school
There are now only five exam subjects in primary schools: Tamil, Bahasa Melayu,
English, Maths and Science. One cannot possibly teach Bahasa Melayu and Engish
in Tamil. Maths and Science are taught in English. So why repeat the same old
bunkum about language deficiency?
Ushiv claims Tamil is not even used as a medium in educational institutions
in India. This is silly. India has over one billion people. Only about 65 million
of them are Tamils, living in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.
Certainly, one would not expect the rest of India to teach their children in
They are taught in their mother tongues which are Hindi, Bengali, Punjabi,
Marathi, Kannada, Telugu, Malayalam etc.
Narayanasamy claims Chinese and Tamil schools keep students divided and are
against the sprit of national unity. One fails to understand how this could
happen when mother tongue education is imparted only during the first six years
These children later join the national secondary schools. However, Narayanasamy
chose to be silent on the Malay-only residential schools and institutes of higher
learning such as the Mara University of Technology.
In reality, narrow chauvinistic
views are more likely to be formed in these sort of institutions.
Instead of finding soft targets to blame for the Indian community's socio-economic
ills, let's be honest in understanding why Tamil Malaysians are struggling to
save what is left of the Tamil school system as their cultural heritage.
No doubt, the Tamil schools were started by the British to keep the Tamil workers
in the plantations during the colonial period. But times have changed.
have been chased out of the plantations.
Today, about 80 per cent of the Indians are in urban areas. Yet, many Indians
still want to send their children to Tamil schools. Why? Firstly, they realise
the importance of imparting mother tongue education during the early years of
Secondly, many of these parents fear the racial abuse their young children
would endure in national primary schools. In some instances, Tamil students
are all grouped together in the last class and left there to rot. They hardly
receive any education.
Thirdly, the government has embarked on an intensive Islamisation drive for
over two decades. As a reaction, the Indians see Tamil schools as the last bastion
to protect their linguistic, cultural and religious identity. Let's not forget
that lots of Tamil cultural and religious activities also take place in these
Even if Tamil schools are closed down, what certainty is there that the situation
of the Indians would be better? The opposite effect may take place. Dr K Anbalakan,
a lecturer at Universiti Sains Malaysian (USM), revealed in his PhD study that
the situation got worse for the students after three Tamil schools were converted
to national schools in Kelantan.
Dr R Santhiram, a former USM lecturer, showed in his PhD study that there was
no difference in the performance of Indian students from low-income families
in secondary schools irrespective of whether they were from Tamil or national
To all those clamouring for the closure of Tamil schools, do provide some concrete
evidence to back your claims and show how this move would help the Indians.
The anti-Tamil school arguments put forward are not new. It has been going on
for many years.
It is about time you get off the case of the parents of 100,000 children who
go to Tamil schools. I am certain they know what is best for their children.
P.S. I am an English educated non-Tamil Indian Malaysian who once strongly
clamoured for the closure of Tamil schools. I have since abandoned the stand
after spending the weekends in poor Indian neighbourhoods and listening to the
views of the people for whom the institution matters most.
Tamil Schools: The Cinderella of Malaysian Education
by K Arumugam , Aliran
One of the most controversial debates about the Tamil schools system is, to
have it, or not to have it. Shoes went flying in a meeting some 30 years ago,
when an unsuspecting scholar, then the head of Indian Studies Department called
for the closure of the Tamil schools as an alternative to saving the children.
The Tamil language, rooted in antiquity and which flourished some 2,500 years
ago, is one of the oldest surviving languages. Interwoven in the culture and
religion, the language has become the emotional make-up and identity of the
The Tamil schools form part of a struggle by cultural/language
advocates in Malaysia to sustain and maintain that history, arguably at a heavy
cost to the development of the human capital.
In his pioneering work in 1987, T. Marimuthu, calling the Tamil school the Cinderella
of the whole Malaysian educational system, sums it up as follows:
' .. children of the plantation poor, schooled in the neighbourhood Tamil school,
have not been able to use the school as an avenue of educational and social
mobility. This is due to the host of socio-economic and cultural factors originating
from the home as well as the low quality of schooling…failure (of the children)
is individualized and not externalized.
The individual takes the blame. In the
world of work, .. (they) fill the unskilled, slightly skilled and semi skilled
occupational categories.. Now the wheel completes full circle; the son of a
plantation worker becomes a better plantation worker.'
At present the Tamil schools accommodate almost 50% of school-going Indian Malaysian
children. This article takes a glance at the history and status, the trend and
the hope in the Tamil school system.
History and Status
The first Tamil school was set up at the beginning of the 18th century. The
Penang Free School, set up by Rev. R. Hutchings in 1816, was reported to contain
a class to conduct 'formal' Tamil education in the Straits Settlement. The 1912
Labour Ordinance compelled the planters to set up ad-hoc schools for children
of the plantation labour. The number of schools increased to 333 in 1930, 547
in 1938, 741 in 1947 and to its maximum of 888 in 1957. After the country's
independence, the shift in education policy and the labour migration led to
the closing down of many schools. In 1963 there were 720 such schools. By 2000
there were only 526.
The setting up of the Tamil schools and some Telugu schools was primarily meant
for the children from the labour class. The majority of the schools were set
up in the plantations merely to fulfil the statutory requirement more than to
provide a meaningful education. Termed as partially funded schools, these schools
did not fall within the government's public spending expenditure. Located in
private lands, they lacked infrastructure, trained teachers and resources, materials
There have been many studies on the Tamil school system - all pointing to the
Tamil school system being weak, lacking in facilities with the highest drop
out rate and poor performance. None of the studies thus far has put the problem
of the Tamil schools in the right perspective. If socio-economic inequality
is the determining factor for a child's performance then what happens to the
position of similar children in mainstream education. If the medium of instruction
is the main culprit for poor performance, then one will find it difficult to
explain the good performance of the Chinese medium children.
Without exhaustive analysis of internal and external factors, it is premature
for anyone to suggest that Tamil education is a waste.
Tamil Education or No Education
In an unpublished paper, R.Thillainathan, an economist, cautioned in 1988 that
for the Tamil children from poor homes it is either 'Tamil education or no education'.
He linked factors such as mother tongue language as an immediate communication
tool, proximity of schools and cultural shock for Tamil-speaking children from
poor homes in a non-Tamil speaking environment. This notion was not completely
wrong. From 1990 to year 2000, the enrolment in Tamil schools declined both
in relative terms as well as in real numbers.
The year 1993 recorded the highest enrolment of about 104,600 children enrolling
in the Tamil schools. However, this number dropped to about 90,280 in year 2000.
The drop is despite the fact that during the same period there was an increase
in the school-going population. A quantitative estimate of children in the school
system for the year 1998, showed some 15,000 Indian children in the age range
of 6 to 11 were not enrolled in the school system. It is unlikely that these
children belonged to any other group but the working class.
One plausible explanation could be that the period 1990 to 2000 marked an era
of rapid development of the economy, in particular the development of agricultural
land banks. This led to large scale migration of plantation labour to urban
areas, causing an acute drop in the enrolment in the Tamil schools in the plantations.
This did not lead to a corresponding increase in the urban school enrolment.
This meant that these 15,000 children were not in the school system mainly due
to the unavailability of Tamil schools in the urban setting. One can also ask,
why were they not in the mainstream schools?
Political Dilemma and Drama
One of the strongest advocates of Tamil education is the Malaysian Indian Congress
(MIC). Pointing to the continued existence of the Tamil school system as its
achievement (if not for the MIC, there will not be any Tamil schools), the MIC
has done its greatest disservice to the poor Indians. The MIC thrived on the
weaknesses of the Tamil schools system by co-opting the teachers and headmasters
as its members. The culture of paternalism and rhetoric ruled the day. The children
never saw the light at the end of the tunnel. It is a trend that the votes of
the Indians became an essential bargaining tool in obtaining federal and state
subsidies for the upkeep of the schools. The total weakness of the schools and
the lack of governmental intervention is a reflection of the MIC's weak bargaining
power within the ruling party.
To date there has not been enough serious effort by the MIC to address the basic
issues related to the Tamil schools. It seems reluctant to allow the community
the option of confronting the government of the day to do something about the
plight of the Tamil schools. Public spending on Tamil schools to date has been
However, the politics of confrontation, if it can be interpreted as such, helped
the Tamil schools during the period 1990 to 1995. M.G. Pandithan, an axed MIC
leader who went on to establish the Indian Progressive Front (IPF), which was
part of the opposition coalition in 1990, created a split in the Indian votes.
The government, perhaps fearing potential vote swings in a number of parliamentary
and state seats where Indians voters made up at least 10% of the electorate,
decided to look at the Tamil school problems a little more closely. The allocation
under the 6th Malaysia plan (1990-1995) was an unprecedented RM 27,042,000,
about 2.14% of the total allocation for education. However, when things returned
to normal, Pandithan choosing to support the BN and the MIC thriving on the
handouts and allocations, the Indians voted without any reservations for the
BN. The resounding BN victory in 1995, ended the edge gained by political bargaining.
The budget allocation for Tamil schools in the 7th Malaysia plan (1996-2000)
was reduced to half, only RM 10,902,000 or about 1.02% of the total allocation
The allocation for the Tamil schools in the 8th Malaysia plan is expected to
far exceed previous amounts primarily due to the increased bargaining power
gained by the MIC by virtue of the development of opposition politics and the
activism and demands of the NGOs.
Are the academic performance of the children and the medium of instruction inter-related?
Often the Tamil schools bear the brunt of the blame for the poor performance
of the children. R.Santhiram tends to argue that the socio-economic status of
the children is more significant than the medium of instruction. His research
on selected children from poor socio economic backgrounds in both national schools
and Tamil schools did not reveal any significant difference in their performance,
except in the Malay language subject.
N. Iyngkaran, supports the argument that there is no relative disadvantage in
going to Tamil schools. By comparing the UPSR results for the year 2000 and
2001, Tamil school children performed almost at par with the national average
in Mathematics, Science and English, the three common subjects for all the mediums.
However, the poorer performance in the Malay language subject compared to the
national medium and Chinese medium schools placed the overall pass rate of the
Tamil schools among the lowest. In the year 2001, in the Bahasa Melayu Penulisan
(Malay language - written) and Bahasa Melayu Pemahaman (Malay language - comprehension)
papers the Tamil schools recorded 40% and 55% respectively. For the same subjects,
the Chinese schools posted 57% and 66% and the National schools 84% and 88%
A strong advocate of Tamil schools, Iyngkaran argues that Tamil schoolchildren
are not to be regarded as weak in the light of their improved performance in
recent times. Given their handicapped position and their socio-economic status,
the Tamil schoolchildren have the potential to even out perform their peers
in the other medium, if the prerequisites in terms of governmental intervention
and community support.
Future of Tamil Schools
Tamil schools are bound to stay. They are a matter of pride and dignity for
more than half of Indian Malaysians. To them, the need for an unpolarised system
of education bridging the gap of unity and racial understanding is rhetoric.
It is also not possible to dismantle mother tongue education, without disrupting
the cultural and religious fabric that has provided identity and belonging.
If only unity among the various ethnic groups was a question of mere language!
Perhaps, a new dimension in understanding the economic, social and cultural
rights of individuals and communities within a frame work of respecting, promoting,
protecting and fulfilling such rights should be recognized. It should lead to
a discovery of the inner potential of humankind to harness the purpose for life
and living - which, one supposes, is the real goal of education.
K. Arumugam is a coordinator of the Group of Concerned Citizens, an Indian-based
lobby group formed to initiate discussions on various inter- and intra-community
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