My mother went to a Tamil school. In the estate where she was born, there was only one school and it was a Tamil school. It was in the 50s, when Malaya was newly independent.
Fast forward to 2014, Tamil schools still exist in estates and cities and I know for a fact that if those Tamil schools in estates and Indian ghettos are abolished, many kids will be out of school. So, it is not a good idea at all to abolish and integrate those schools into national schools for now. For now, for now nu solli, 50 varusham aachi pa, innum for now, for now neh sollikittu irukkom..
But, how about the long run, after 2020, come 2050, will the Indian/Tamil community here still say, ‘for now, Tamil schools are still needed because, bla, bla, bla.” ?
Forget the Sekolah Wawasan initiated by Tun Dr Mahathir in a feeble attempt or more accurately, a cunning gloss over of primary level vernacular and national schools integration – eating together, assembling together then back to same races in class doesn’t warrant max assimilation.
I went to a national primary school. My Tamil sucked back then. When I started secondary school, I got the chance to get to know girls from Tamil primary schools and when it was time to group the Form 1 students in classes in accordance to our UPSR results, the girls from Tamil schools were denied places in the top two classes although they were qualified for it. I literally witnessed the downfall of a bus mate cum schoolmate who was bright and clever but ended up becoming a mom at 18. Here’s her story and the elaboration on why such a bias existed in my school.
Don’t get me wrong – I am not saying that only students from Tamil schools are becoming trouble makers, the proclivity of those from Tamil schools to derail once they get to secondary school is marginally higher due to the lack of exposure to Malaysia’s multiracial, multicultural and multi-religious society fabric that exists in secondary schools.
Of course not only students from Tamil schools lack exposure, any school with one dominant race tend to know little about other races here, be it Chinese vernacular schools or even sekolah agama for that matter.
The reality of Tamil schools
I know that all of you know the pitiful plight of Tamil schools. Well, the conditions of the schools in Sabah and Sarawak are worse and they are national schools, not SRKJ. So, it can be concluded that this is not a racial problem – it’s a national problem. Our politicians especially in BN and even Pakatan Rakyat don’t have the political will to streamline and uniform primary education and schools and adopt Singapore’s primary school model which preserves the right to acquire the skill of speaking, reading and writing one’s mother tongue at elementary level even as well as ensuring conducive, resourceful and comfortable schooling environment. But, definitely the Malay language retains it’s reputation as our national language.
Next, let’s look at how vernacular schools are termed – SRJK (C) and SRJK (T). The ‘J’ is Jenis. Jenis? The word ‘Jenis’ in vernacular schools here is an affront to the Malaysian society as a whole.
My schoolmate from Tamil school I mentioned above had most likely experienced this UPSR exam drilling phenomena in Tamil schools. I still remember that she could spell well but not pronounce both English and Malay words properly. That made conversing with the students and teachers of other races alike in the school and verbal activities within school a bane and the class bias didn’t help. That’s the result of such drilling and the abolishment of the Remove class.. Plus, Tamil school libraries are not well equipped and yet some Tamil schools like the one above, don’t have libraries! Children miss out reading the works of Enid Blyton and Usman Awang. They would have no idea of Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka or the Ivy League or enjoy the Sweet Valley novels and Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales. Books are not cheap and I personally owe a lot to my school and varsity libraries to improve my command of both English and Malay language. Many Tamil schools going children don’t have this privilege.
In recent years, Tamil school students have been churning straight As in UPSR and the veracity has been treated with great pride and touted that that is why Tamil schools should continue to exist. Comparison is done between the yearly UPSR results Tamil schools yield with Chinese vernacular and national schools’ UPSR scores yield. Is this healthy competition? Our school kids should compete in anything at all, not only in academia, as Malaysians, not as demarcated races. We openly mock Najib’s 1Malaysia policy and denounce the public university quota system. but what are we at heart?
My atte is a Tamil school headmistress and her only daughter tops the school in every exam. Needless to say, my cousin sister got 7As in UPSR. My atte openly proclaimed that topping the school in exams is no benchmark to gauge the true prowess of the student and my cousin sis backed her mother. My niece went to a Tamil school and she scored 7As too. She is now struggling in secondary school and is on the track of my friend I mentioned above.
Yet, I am giving the benefit of the doubt for Tamil schools because I only observed three cases closely. I have read of students from Chinese schools doing better in public examinations. Now, the same goes to Tamil schools throughout the last 5 years. Quite a number of Tamil school students had good results in the public examinations for all subjects and the percentage is increasing each year despite the lack of facilities. So, that should speak of the teachers who educated them, lest the Year 6 Chitti Robo programming aka UPSR drilling in Tamil schools I linked above is fiction. I am also in the know that teachers in Tamil schools are very dedicated and many of them start pushing the students at Year 5 itself.
I am not questioning the standard of education in Tamil schools, especially at UPSR level – Malay and English language papers are set at equal standard of the standard of national school. There is no difference in the maths and science papers as well, in fact of higher standard than SRK as my cousin sister from Tamil school testified. Only language or instructions that appear in the Math and Science papers are bilingual. I am only taking the teaching methods in Tamil schools with a pinch of salt especially at Year 6 students. And, if the standard is the same, with Chinese vernacular schools being inclusive, why bother to be hell bent to retain 3 school systems that polarize the major races in Malaysia?
Do Tamil schools represent all Malaysians of Indian descent?
Many Indian parents consciously choose whether to or not enroll their kids in Tamil schools. Many have the perception that if enrolled in Tamil schools, their kids not only learn Tamil their mother tongue but also culture and norms.
Which culture and norms? Tamil culture, norms and celebrations. Since Tamil is the majority here.
For all those Indians or more accurately Tamil say that we have to preserve our mother tongue and culture and norms, hence the need for vernacular schools, how do non Tamil children whose mother tongue is Malayalam, Telugu, Punjabi etc learn their mother tongue languages and preserve their culture and norms? Should we insist on vernacular schools for these groups of children too?
Indian culture cannot be lumped together as geographical and language differences bring forth a big variety in cultural values.
As per my personal opinion, culture is what parents are supposed to teach. An extension would be religious places, like temples. I think schools should focus on academia alone, and not mix things up as a place for cultural studies. Yes, we can have exposure to culture, but that walks a fine line as it has to be decided what will be exposed and what will be skipped. Who’s to say what culture should be learnt and what isn’t?
It would be good if Tamil is taught as a subject in schools, both primary and secondary while culture, Indian arts, other Indian languages of minorities here, Hindu cornerstones and scriptures and Sanskrit be taught in temples or cultural centers like Temple of Fine Arts.
One might argue that although there are many Chinese dialect groups here, namely Min, Hakka, Cantonese and Wu, they all learn Mandarin in Chinese schools. That is because Mandarin is the most spoken language in the world in population context, in mainland China. Chinese entertainment hub is Hong Kong where the predominant dialect is Cantonese. Jackie Chan, Aaron Kwok, Andy Lau, Chau Yun Fatt and Anita Mui are all Cantonese from Hong Kong. Zhang Ziyi and Gong Li on the other hand are from mainland China. Our very own Michelle Yeoh is Cantonese as well and she hails from Ipoh. Mainland China is Hong Kong’s hinterland like how peninsula Malaysia is for Singapore.
Mandarin is the medium of instruction in Chinese-medium schools in Malaysia. As such, Malaysian Chinese throughout Malaysia who attended Chinese-medium schools understand and speak Mandarin. Many Chinese-educated Malaysian Chinese families have taken to speaking Mandarin with their children due to the notion that other Chinese dialects are growing increasingly redundant in an era where Mandarin is increasing in importance. This has led to the emergence of a community of young Chinese who are fluent in Mandarin but unable to speak their native Chinese dialect, understand but do not speak it, or prefer not to speak it in public. Source: Wikipedia
On the contrary with the veracity of Mandarin above, Tamil is only spoken by 6% of the Indian population. Hindi is the predominant language of India, spoken by 40% of the population, making Hindi the second largest spoken language in the world in populace context. Narendra Modi is trying to unite India by making Hindi the official language of India, taught in all schools like Bahasa Melayu but Indian language nationalists there don’t approve this move of the newly minted Indian PM.
Similarly, this splinter nationalism has infiltrated our community here too. Not too long ago, Telugu sangam proposed to RTM to air some Telugu programs on Deepavali and that proposal was met with grave contempt and vehemence on the part of a certain Malaysians Tamil language preserving group, citing Tamil is the national language of Indians in Malaysia and that other Indian ethnic groups here should acknowledge it and not ask for language equality status. How’s that not different than PERKASA? I’m afraid vernacular schools especially Tamil schools not only polarize other races but within race too..
And, another personal incident I’d like to share. When I was an active blogger, I used Diwali instead of Deepavali in one of my post because Diwali is the international understanding term of that festival – Obama says Happy Diwali, not Happy Deepavali – my blog had international viewership. Several guys condemned me for using Diwali instead of Deepavali, branding me anti Tamil.. That’s what vernacular school system does, breed fanaticism. THR Raaga interviewed 2 Malaysians of Indian descent who work and study in the USA the other day. One of the girls work in Google headquarters in California and have been living in the States for 7 years. She speaks fluent Tamil and when they wished for the festival of lights, they said Happy Diwali, not Happy Deepavali.
Tamil nationalism is not bad but when we say, “Tamilan Da,” “Tamilan endru sollada thalai nimirnthu nil ada,” etc, we are sidelining the Malayalees, Telugus, Punjabis, etc. Most Indian children nowadays learn their mother tongue from their grandparents. Many Indian parents increasingly speak English to their kids because it’s the lingua franca of the world as mothertongue takes a backseat.
I am not Tamil. I went to a national school. But, I can speak and I taught myself to read Tamil (can’t write effectively though) I watch Tamil, Hindi and Telugu movies. I can understand 80% of Hindi. My late dad could speak 6 languages fluently and only read Tamil dailies. My elder brother and 2 of my elder sisters went to Tamil school but that was nearly 2 decades ago.
Vernacular schools is not the future for Malaysia
Recently an UMNO man suggested closing down vernacular schools and the Chinese went up in arms against the man, citing the right to be educated in one’s mothertongue. It is not rocket science to understand that these UMNO leaders often raise this kind of issues during their AGM just to gain some supports from their members to win in the next party election so let me make it clear that I only agree to the idea, not the agenda. I still remember the keris yielding Hishamudin and Malay first, Malaysian second Muhiyiddin. Race based politics have to go if Malaysia is to attain true unity and the same goes to vernacular schools.
The kids of today will be the system and governmental policies makers of tomorrow. We all know how UMNO have failed the Malays despite its Ketuanan Melayu policies, how MCA and MIC have failed the Chinese and Indians. By perpetuating vernacular schools, we perpetuate racial division in the politics of the future.
Historically, the British built separate vernacular schools to maintain racial divide and prejudice to lord over us. It is indeed expedient and shrewd and one of the things that should have been kicked out right after Malaysia gained independence from the British if our leaders truly want to see a united Malaysia turn up without jeopardising our national language, our official religion, our monarchy and our Rukun Negara.
Of course, when we talk about integrating into one school system, a lot of factors have to be taken into consideration when going around implementing it. For example – the capability of absorbing existing workforce/teachers from vernacular schools into national schools, to sync and enable vernacular subjects to be taught efficiently under the new system should be flawlessly devised to mirror the precision and efficiency of the Mumbai dabbawalas. Of course, this requires a lot of effort and good planning as we don’t want the vernacular subjects to drop in standard due to inability in the national schools in providing teaching time in the already packed student schedule plus co-curricular activities. In future, a one school system is possible with a good blueprint. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Currently, vernacular subjects are offered under the national school system. These classes are held around 2-4 pm after school hours and usually has low attendance even by the students who are sitting for the public examinations on vernacular subjects. Of course, the scenario is different in vernacular schools. That’s what I meant as efficiently under the new system – vernacular language teaching in national schools should be interspersed into school hour classes without impinging and compromising other subjects’ classes.
But, the benefits of having a single education system outweighs the factors needed to be considered before implementing one. It would require some sacrifices and adjustments though.