Tamil schools have important role to play
Date: Friday, December 03 @ 08:20:04 CST
Topic: Tamil Schools
Nov 30, 04 Malaysiakini
Many years ago, in 1835, Lord Macaulay, the Victorian essayist, poet and historian, who was then presiding the Committee on Public Instruction in Bengal, recommended for India a thoroughly English education system that '... create[s] a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour but English in taste, in morals and in intellect'.
Such was the thinking behind the famed English education. While at the outset, the system did produce servile coloured officers to administer the vast British Empire, it also paved the way for the Empire's ultimate undoing.
However, for better or worse, the idea that the Occidentals - their culture, their system, their intellect, their aesthetics - are somehow superior to the Orientals has never really been extirpated from our psyche. Despite the passage of half a century, we still live in a landscape mottled by shadows of colonialism.
Which brings me to the letter Time to phase out Tamil schools. The letter writer, one Ushiv, evidently an apologist for the English schooling system, contends that Tamil schools should be closed down, presumably because they are a dead end for our young.
The arguments he put forward aren't new: 1) That the school facilities are dilapidated; 2) Poor prospects at the job market; 3) That good knowledge of Tamil is unnecessary for 'success'; 4) does not promote ethic integration; and, ultimately, 5) Even those who espouse Tamil education - politicians, Tamil newspapermen, Tamil school educators - do not send their children to Tamil schools.
These arguments aren't necessarily untrue, or wrong. However, in deciding on a large issue like phasing out Tamil schools - the question's lack of constitutionality notwithstanding - more understanding and nuance is necessary. One must also appreciate what role these schools play, and the relative merits of any alternative.
To my knowledge, there are at least three strong points and two trends, in favour of Tamil schools.
Firstly, most Tamil schools (87 percent) are still located in rural settings. The vast majority of the students (95 percent) come from poor households. As such, for many of them, it is either Tamil education or no education at all.
Even if the Tamil schools are converted overnight to government schools (SK), there is no guarantee that adequate funds would be allocated. (There are many 'fully funded' government schools that continue to operate despite being deemed unsafe for occupation.)
Secondly, studies tell us that we learn better in our mother language. As a Unesco report put it: 'Years of research have shown that children who begin their education in their mother-tongue make a better start, and continue to perform better, than those for whom school starts with a new language.'
For the Tamil school students, their mother-tongue is Tamil. Hence, it is logical why their early education should be in Tamil as well. Once a solid foundation has been laid, there could be a shift in the medium of instruction.
Often, many English-educated Tamils (like Ushiv, for example), in their reformist zeal, forget this important role of Tamil schools. Macaulay, hence, thrives.
Thirdly, the schools provide the students a strong sense of self and pride in the one's cultural and spiritual heritage. For a multicultural nation like ours, these are valuable assets. When Malaysians as one people under one banner unite, each of us would still retain a degree of uniqueness that helps us to unleash our collective creative genius.
For far too long, we have derided our diversity. Only lately have we begun to give a halting recognition to it. More should be done. Cultural diversity should be embraced and celebrated. The Tamil school system, in that respect, is an integral part of that Malaysian idea.
Next, over the last 10 years, Tamil schools have begun to perform better. During this period, the rate of improvement among Tamil school students has consistently remained higher than both national and Chinese vernacular schools.
As a result, Tamil schools that were once thought to be dying, have naturally seen a reversal of their fate. According to the Education Ministry, over 95,000 students were enrolled in Tamil schools in January 2004, as opposed to about 88,000 just two years previously.
And, increasingly, too, many Tamil school teachers - and other middle-class parents - choose to send their children to Tamil schools.
Finally, there is a growing realisation among Tamils in particular, and Indian Malaysians generally, that Tamil schools should be safeguarded - that their success is coterminous with the community's success and future.
In a way, this realisation came about because of the many Tamil school alums who have done well in their life. Also, partly, the recognition that all the talk about closing down Tamil schools is but the talk of idlers. People have been talking about it since Barnes released his report 50 years ago.
In the meantime, Tamil schools (all 524 of them) continue to run, and almost hundred thousand students continue to receive their early education there.
Hence, it would be far more productive if we, instead, discussed how we could improve the schools further; improve the students' reading and writing ability; help the Parent-Teachers Associations function better; help parents become more effective partners in their child's education and come together to raise the funds for extra buildings, material and after-school programmes.
The time for action is ripe.
Studying the truth behind Tamil schools
Dec 2, 04 1:59pm
Every now and then the debate on the need and role of Tamil schools is raised. To me, this kind of debate is an excellent opportunity to get the opinions of the more exposed and educated members of the Indian community.
Let me tell you a story of my experience with Tamil schools in rural areas. Many years ago, I had worked as a temporary teacher in two Tamil schools in the northern states. Both were in estates far away from the main towns.
The first school, which was deep in an estate, only had about 18 students. It comprised four teachers (including me), a gardener and headmaster. Being one from an English-educated background (with Tamil credentials up to a distinction in SPM), I taught lower secondary Tamil and English.
As a temporary teacher, you are not given any training whatsoever and you're given the job just to make up the numbers with a pay of about RM450 a month (at that time).
After about a month, I realised that the students were not getting anywhere as we were forced to follow the curriculum set by the Education Ministry. What I realised was that the syllabus was meant for bigger classrooms and as such, a better way to teach my students was to use the syllabus as an outline but teach them in a tuition manner.
This idea was however, rejected by the headmaster as he did not want to go against the norm as the education auditors would not like it according to him. In the end, the students did not benefit very much and most of the teachers were unhappy as their they was bogged down with so much paper work for just a small number of students.
The headmaster, on the other hand, was either not in most of the time or came in late with bloodshot eyes testimony to heavy boozing the night before. The school itself was in a shabby condition with the asleep after having had some booze himself.
The second school I went to was a much bigger school with a student population of about almost a hundred. Better, younger and more dedicated teachers were present in this school. The headmaster however, was a politically active person.
He was very involved in MIC activities which took place during office hours. This school was also in a shabby condition and the finance clerk always complained that the headmaster was pocketing all the funds allocated to the school.
Another problem was that the buying of school supplies required a kickback of about 20 percent for the headmaster. I found out later that this was a normal habit amongst headmasters in many Tamil schools.
Nope, I do not have anything to back up my statements as I am out of the education system. You are free to make your own assumptions.
The toilet of in the second school, for instance, was horrendous but I was again told by the school's finance clerk that the ministry had given money for the building of a better toilet. Although the money was utilised, the toilet never got any better.
And oh yes, before I forget, that headmaster has since retired and is currently a state assemblyman for his area with his kid educated in non-Tamil schools. Good for him and his family, I guess. I wonder what happened to his former students.
The point I am trying to make is the supposedly usefulness of some of these Tamil schools in this day and age. You see, after the students finish their Standard 6, they have to go to the secondary schools further away from their estates.
Due to the distance (some walk or cycle an average of 20km a day), financial burdens and the pressures of being with students much more educated then themselves, only a few go on up to Form 5 with a very, very small number making it to universities.
From the beginning to end, Tamil school students in rural areas have to surmount tremendous obstacles in order to get a decent education. On top of that, they have to contend with school administrators who are more interested in their pockets and personal gains.
To my understanding, almost every Tamil school headmaster is somewhat active in the MIC and this consumes most of their time. Which makes me wonder how they have the time to come up with dynamic ideas to improve their schools' standards.
Let me also say that the Tamil schools in urban areas do very much better then the ones located in the estates. This is because urban parents are much more involved in their kids' education and this in turn puts pressure on the schools to produce better results.
Also, the teachers are more dedicated and outspoken which forces their headmasters to perform. And to give credit where it is due, many of the urban Tamil school headmasters are dedicated as well.
You see, it was the British who made sure that the Indians in the estates never got out. They built schools, temples and quarters within the estates to keep the community contained. They never gave any importance to the children's education.
It was important to keep the kids lowly educated so that they take over the work of their parents and become a new generation labourers. As entertainment, they used to screen Tamil movies every now and then until TV and electricity were available. They also provided a flow of cheap liquor to keep the men happy and hooked.
And nowadays, it's our very own Indian politicians who are employing similar tactics in order to get votes when required.
The idea here is not to totally get rid of the Tamil schools but to do away with the schools in rural areas which are not performing and to come up with a scheme to enable students there to have access to better Tamil/non-Tamil schools nearby in order to have a more focused education.
Phasing out Tamil schools is not a solution and blaming culture would be totally off-track. You see, getting rid of things is easier then creating something concrete. If you ever want the lives of these youth to be improved, then something has to be done and a strong will needs to be in place.
Don't blame their cultural or language preferences as their downfall. And if you keep the politicians out of the schools, then perhaps there will be a light at the end of the tunnel.
The question is, can this ever be done?
Vernacular education has kept Malaysians divided
Dec 2, 04 2:00pm
Mother-tongue education is a favourite theme amongst the minorities in any community, and there are many who feel that the best education can be given only through the mother tongue of the learner. In Malaysia, the same argument is used, with many supporting theories from various sources, by those who favour mother-tongue education.
With so many minorities living in this country, championing mother-tongue education for all the minority communities will be impractical. If only the bigger minority communities are afforded this facility, then, the smaller minorities may feel that their interests are being neglected and their children will be at a great disadvantage.
The Chinese and Tamil schools are in Malaysia due to the British colonial policy before independence and their continuation is merely for political convenience. The economic might of the Chinese in this country has given Chinese education the economic value that is harped on by the Chinese in this country for mother-tongue education.
The same Chinese in America, or even in Indonesia, have not been given the benefit of mother- tongue education, but the community has been adept in learning the language of the nation and earning enormous success.
The same cannot be said of the Tamils. Not all the Indian Malaysians are Tamils. Unlike Mandarin, which is acceptable to all the Chinese, there is no single language acceptable to all the Indians.
Tamil schools were built by the British in areas where they located Tamil labourers during the colonial period. The same British built the English schools in the towns, and the Malay schools in the villages. The Chinese built their own schools in their areas, usually on their own land.
The Indians who came into the country as professionals or officers sent their children to the urban English schools. That view that the Tamil schools are for the labour class seems to be maintained till today, and very few Tamil professionals send their children to these schools due to this perception.
For the sake of attaining independence in 1957, the existing school system under the British was kept in place to get the support of the divergent groups. At that time, the Chinese and the Indians were still applying for citizenship of the country and were in the process of making this country their home.
But 50 years after that, we are still looking at the schools from the same angle as seen by the ethnic leaders during independence. We have not grown up as Malaysians as the education system has seen to it that we stay divided.
Do we wish to stay divided? Are we so different that our children cannot share the same school?
As for the Tamils, after nearly 50 years of independence, most of their Tamil schools are still on private land and the government has not taken them over. The Tamils are not in a position to emulate the Chinese to build imposing buildings for their schools.
Many are in need of repairs and face-lifts and yearly, the Indian-based political party ends up debating and formulating resolutions to help the Tamil schools - usually by appealing for help from the government. No one even bothers to ponders on the outcome of these resolutions at the next assembly, and the saga goes on and on.
For many Tamil stalwarts, Tamil schools are a form of service to the Tamil community and they are proud to be in this game. There is a great enthusiasm to congratulate the 7A students of the UPSR examinations in the Tamil schools, but, strangely not much enthusiasm is shown to follow-up on these students until they reach the SPM/STPM levels.
The quality of Tamil education has also declined considerably in the Malaysian Tamil schools due to the type of Tamil teachers. This is due to the selection of candidates for teacher-training - anyone with the minimum qualification and a credit in Tamil (SPM) may be chosen as Tamil teachers.
Many of them have a shallow grounding in Tamil, and many of them do not have an inclination towards Tamil literature - a necessity to become a good Tamil teacher. Till today, no effort is made for these teachers to be enrolled into one of the many Tamil language/literature courses that are available at our own universities or through online providers.
In Malaysia, we should be talking about Tamil and Chinese as subjects that are taught well with the relevant literature. Not champion the divisive nature of 'education in Chinese/Tamil'.
Only then will all Malaysians have a single education system that does not favour or deprive any of the various groups in the country. If we can't do this after about 50 years of independence, then, we are never going to do it in the future. The nett effect of such a situation are surely more pronounced divides with more and more champions voicing slogans for different groups within the nation - a feature that will be grossly detrimental to the nation.
Time to phase out Tamil schools
Nov 26, 04 3:57pm
It's time Tamil-speaking Indians sit down and have a serious soul-searching session on Tamil schools without getting emotional.
I am the product of our English-medium schools of years gone by. I speak and write Bahasa Malaysia, English And Tamil. I also speak Cantonese, Hindi and Malayalam. The Tamil I learnt during the Tamil classes held within the English-medium schools.
There were also Mandarin and Agama classes going on side-by-side with no problems really. It is the best solution for racial integration.
But let's take a look now (without getting emotional) at what a Tamil-trained student is going to do in today's job market. He or she can become a Tamil schoolteacher, that's for sure. Or become a Tamil DJ or newscaster, a court interpreter or a salesperson in a Tamil-owned shop.
But everything else around us can be done without an in-depth knowledge of Tamil.
Of course, there are Tamil school students who have become professionals but they will tell you how tough it was for them to make it through university. These are the people who wouldn't put their own children through the same system they went through.
I know a Tamil school headmaster, who came to that vocation because his parents had put him through a Tamil school in the estates. I once went to his school to donate some classroom chairs. During the small function there, he went on and on extolling the virtues of a Tamil education.
At the end of the function, while walking back to my car, I casually asked him how many children he had and whether they were in his school.
The man told me they were in the national type schools. When asked why, he shyly said: 'I don't want them to become like me. My parents made a bad choice, and I am stuck here.' ( pointing to his dilapidated school).
I then told him, 'But you just told all those people to send their children to Tamil schools.'
'Ya lah ... otherwise we won't have any work!' he replied cheekily.
So this is the problem with Tamil schools. Those who advocate them rarely send their children to the same schools. How many politicians you know send all their children to Tamil schools?
Those who insist on keeping these sad schools alive should show proof that they have their own children enrolled in them. Otherwise, they should keep quiet.
Tamil schools and double standards exist because race-based political parties want to keep their voter base large and alive so that they will always remain in power.
Take a trip to Tamil Nadu in India and see for yourself how much importance is given to English education instead of Tamil education alone.
The best Indian universities teach in English and hence a huge demand for their graduates all over the world. When the Indians in India can move in the right direction, why are we insisting on keeping our children in the dark?
Chinese students from China enroll in private colleges in Malaysia for a good English education. But our own students seem to have no such choice and the standard of our own English is so bad.
The British built the Tamil schools in the estates so that they would forever have a source of cheap labour. Our cheap politicians are now exploiting that situation for votes. This is why the Tamil community in this country is in dire straits.
The same British built beautiful English schools in the towns. And it seems that we have dumped the good and retained the bad. How sad.
Those big English schools are more than a hundred years old and but are still standing tall with neither structural defects nor fungus. Plus they were built on flat ground so that there would be no landslides!