Many are not aware of the transformation that has taken place in Tamil schools in the last 10-20 years as the result of efforts by various organisations, especially the MIC, tuition centres, education groups, teachers and principals, PTAs and of course parents, who are placing greater emphasis on education as a way out of mediocrity and poverty. Much still needs to be done for Tamil schools, and various organisations and individuals are pestering the government to do more. The days of dilapidated estate schools with unqualified teachers, indifferent parents and unmotivated students are fast fading away to be replaced by more urban-based schools with dedicated teachers and headmasters, IT and other facilities and various well-intentioned groups and organisations helping to raise the standard of education in Tamil schools. They are attracting a better mix of students – children of the elite, professionals, the middle-class rubbing shoulders with those from the low-cost houses and estates.
The migration of plantation workers to the urban areas has been a boon to Tamil schools due to better buildings and facilities, amalgamation of neighbourhood schools and higher enrolment. Tamil school teachers are now a dedicated lot who seriously consider that the future of the community lies primarily in their hands. Tamil schools are also receiving much private assistance form various groups and philanthropists who are ever ready to offer a helping hand. The teaching of Science and Maths in English from Year 4 onwards has also strengthened the Tamil schools as the students have a special liking for English and the teachers face no difficulties in teaching these subjects in English, unlike teachers in Chinese and National schools who continue to complain much about the change.
Indian teachers proficient in both arts and science subjects have boosted the image of Tamil schools. Chinese schools show a marked preference for Science and Maths, and National schools have an advantage in Bahasa Malaysia and Agama Islam. Additionally, Tamil schools give a good basic grounding in the Tamil language, literature, religion and culture and this is important in multi-racial Malaysia where there is fear of one’s language fading into oblivion if not preserved by the community. We are all aware of the younger generation of Malayalees, Telugus and Sikhs being unable to read or write in their mother tongue. Thus Tamil schools play a major role in preserving Tamil and even Malayalees and Telugus could benefit from a Tamil school education as the languages are somewhat related.
UPSR results too have improved vastly over the years and this is perhaps the best barometer of achievement and prizes and awards have also boosted the performance of the primary school pupils. In fact, sections of the Indian community who have prospered much such as the Malayalees, Sri Lankan Tamils and Sikhs could do their part through financial aid, engaging in teaching as well as outreach programmes that could further enhance the performance of the Tamil school pupils. Tamil language and literature at the SPM and STPM are an invaluable help in securing places in universities and colleges now that the quota system has given way to the extremely competitive meritocratic system. Students taking these subjects have a built-in advantage unlike Indian students passing through the National school system who do not learn Tamil.
The standard of English in the Indian community has dropped sharply over the decades as compared to the fluency of the older generation, and Tamil schools are providing a better environment for raising the standard of English through competent teachers and eager students wanting to learn English, thus enabling the young to become competent in English and partake of the many opportunities that abound worldwide through globalisation.
Possibly, the learned judge could have been right if he had compared the then English schools to Tamil or other vernacular schools as the former were in a class of their own. English schools have not existed anymore since the 1970s, and many are of the opinion that Tamil schools in the present situation are better off. It is an open secret that National school standards at the primary level have slackened due to various factors and Tamil schools have benefited from this as can be observed by the higher enrolment and the confidence of many educated parents in Tamil schools.
Tamil schools are also essential to ensure a large reservoir of Tamil educated professionals for the various media organisations, government departments, courts, NGOs, schools, colleges and universities, etc. In fact, Tamil primary schools are not enough for this purpose and MIC and others should go further to start twining programmes with universities in Tamil Nadu, India or establish tertiary institutions locally to train Tamil professionals for the sectors mentioned above. Suitably qualified Tamil professionals are needed to ensure that the Indian community’s future is not jeopardised.
Until such time when Malaysia has a fully integrated single school system that caters to all languages and religions of Malaysians, Tamil schools will continue to play an effective role in securing the interests of the Indian community.
The backwardness of the Indian community could be traced instead to the secondary schools, which contribute to the many school drop-outs, poor results, compounded by indifferent teachers not acting on disciplinary problems, and students engaging in negative activities with the result that only a small number enter tertiary institutions. The blame should not be heaped on Tamil primary schools.
The lack of progress by the Indian community can be overcome only by the government’s affirmative action policy for Indians, which will enable them to get more jobs in the public sector, greater university enrolment, better business opportunities, scholarships, bank loans, training schemes for youths and a minimum wage scheme by the private sector and self-help community programmes.
Teach Tamil in national schools Yoges Palaniappan, malaysiakini
Sep 14, 07
A former Tamil newspaper journalist believes that by incorporating Tamil language classes in the teaching schedules of schools will save the language from extinction in Malaysia.
The journalist, A Tamil Mani, said he has done extensive research regarding this.
“Let’s face it, nobody wants to send our children to Tamil schools anymore. Even those who claim themselves to be the saviours of Tamil schools don’t send their kids there,” he added.
Tamil Mani said this at a forum, attended by some 30 people, at the Kuala Lumpur Indian Chamber of Commerce. It was organised by the Malaysia Thirukural Association in the Selangor.
“Estate labourers send their children to Tamil schools in the estates. In the cities, only factory workers and small scale businessmen send their kids to these schools,” he said, adding that few professionals send their children to Tamil schools.
Referring to statistics from the Education Ministry, Tamil Mani said: “We have 105, 175 Indian students which is 52 percent in Tamil vernacular schools. And at the same time we have almost 95,000 or 48 percent Indian students in both national schools and Chinese vernacular schools. How are we going to reach this 48 percent?”
Explaining, he said the only way to ensure the continued existence of the Tamil language in Malaysia is to make it a compulsory examination subject in national schools.
“This has been practised for very long in Singapore, and all Tamils in the country can at least speak, write and read basic Tamil,” he said.
“If we see now, only those who’ve attended Tamil schools (in Malaysia), who are more often than not the backward class Tamils, who could speak the language,” he said, adding that the situation must not continue.
Tamil Mani also urged the relevant authorities to make Tamil a compulsory “communication language” for Malay and Chinese students in all schools.
“If Tamil and also Chinese are made compulsory languages in schools, we will have a future generation that could speak all the major languages in the country,” he said.
“Language is the first step towards understanding. By knowing all three languages, we would be able to understand others’ beliefs and cultures. This makes way for national integration,” he said.
Noting the difficulties that could surface when the policy is first implemented, Tamil Mani explained: “In the beginning, we might hesitate to learn other languages. But once it is achieved, we can easily bridge all communities.”
However, some participants disagreed with Tamil Mani.
They felt that making Tamil a compulsory examination subject in national schools will be the starting point of the extinction of Tamil schools.
K Nedunchelian said Singapore’s education system is a failure and the government is looking for a more suitable policy.
“Tamil youths in Singapore cannot speak in Tamil. This is because Tamil is taught as just the second language and they do not use the language as extensively as students in Tamil schools,” he said.
Furthermore, he added, the policy will only help the ruling government to abolish Tamil schools.
Meanwhile, B Kalaivanar, who had the same view as Nedunchelian, urged Tamil Mani to fine tune his proposal.
“Although it a good proposal, it needs to fine tuned. Or else, we’re paving the way for the government to get rid of Tamil schools,” he said.