Tamil schools have always been a touchy issue among the Indian community and recent calls for their closure have incurred the wrath of MIC leaders and Indian-based organisations in the country.
TWO controversial statements on Tamil schools in the country have irked MIC leaders, Indian-based non-governmental organisations and religious organisations in the country.
Former Court of Appeal judge V.C. George was quoted as saying in the July edition of law magazine Relevan that he wanted Tamil schools to be “abolished”; and PPP chief Datuk M. Kayveas joined in the fray by urging for the Tamil language to be made a compulsory subject for all Indians in national schools in the country.
Their statements caused an uproar with Tamil newspapers carrying the views of proponents as well as opponents on the subject.
The issue has now become an open debate between the MIC supported by Tamil Nesan and PPP, supported by Makkal Osai, which came back into circulation after a month’s suspension on Sept 25.
Kayveas also openly accused MIC of not having done anything for the Indian community.
Both Tamil Nesan and Malaysia Nanban highlighted the statements by leaders of the MIC, DAP and other Indian-based organisations opposed to the statement by George who refused to retract what he had said.
A group representing various Indian-based organisations had a meeting with George where he said that his findings were based on a paper titled “Indians in the 21st Century Millennium” presented six years ago in a symposium.
Unhappy with the outcome of the meeting, Klang businessman V. Vembarasan lodged a report at the Brickfields police station in early September.
And before the dust could settle, Kayveas ruffled the feathers of the MIC leaders when he suggested that Tamil be made a compulsory subject in all national schools during a book launch in Kuala Lumpur recently.
He said that during the British rule, there were 1,800 Tamil schools but the number had shrunk to 1,000 schools and then to 523 currently.
“In 2020, the number of these schools is expected to go down further. We should emulate Singapore where Tamil is made a compulsory subject and all Malaysians would study the language,” he said.
Although he did not say it, the inference is that there would be no need for Tamil schools in the country if the language was made compulsory in all national schools.
Kayveas also took a dig at MIC, saying that certain quarters were using their own newspaper to say that new Tamil schools were being constructed in the country.
“There are no new Tamil schools being constructed but only the refurbishment of existing schools which were in very bad condition. But some have been hoodwinking the people through their own newspapers that new schools were being constructed,” he said.
MIC deputy president Datuk G. Palanivel said Kayveas should not have criticised MIC, which is the third largest component in Barisan Nasional with a 60-year history of looking after the interests of the Indian community.
He said under the leadership of MIC president Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu, there has been improvement in the students’ performance in Tamil schools in the country.
“In 1999, only 45 students obtained 7As in the UPSR examination but with guidance as well as revision papers provided by MIC, 570 students obtained 7As last year,” he said.
Vice-president Datuk S. Veerasingam said there were only 888 Tamil schools with a student population of 51,370 students in 1957 and not 1,800 Tamil schools as claimed by Kayveas. At present, there are 150,000 students in the 523 Tamil schools.
Another vice-president Tan Sri K.S. Nijhar described Kayveas as a “circus clown” who fights with everyone in the Barisan.
“He (Kayveas) wants to gain publicity by fighting with all the Barisan parties,” he said, adding that Kayveas had called for the closure of Tamil schools in April 2003.
Group of Concerned Citizens coordinator Charles Santiago said studies have shown that the performance of pupils in Tamil national-type schools was far better than Indian students in national schools.
“Introducing Tamil as a compulsory subject is not going to solve the problems afflicting the minority group students,” he said, adding that studying the mother tongue is fruitful, and effective and gives the individual a well-rounded education.
DAP MP M. Kulasegaran said Tamil schools have been transformed into centres for education for lower, middle and upper class Indians in Malaysia.
“Critics should go to any school and just see how children come to Tamil schools every morning. Some come in motorcycles, others in buses and some in cars, even Mercedes Benz, “ he said.
Kulasegaran said the Tamil school education is an integral part of the national education system and calling for the closure of Tamil schools is not only stupid but reflects ignorance on the part of the individuals.
“Tamil school education is to teach values, mother tongue education, culture and comfort, not for securing high-paying jobs. After primary schooling, the students move on to other mediums at secondary and university levels where they acquire knowledge and expertise in Malay and English to prepare them for the job market.
“Let's not foolishly blame Tamil schools if students don’t get good jobs 10 or 15 years down the line after completing six years in Tamil schools. It is unfair to blame Tamil school education,” he said.
Kulasegaran added that nobody would rush to join a school system that is useless and a one-way ticket to poverty. He said the increased enrolment shows that parents trust the Tamil school system.
“The ‘close Tamil schools' debate should end if all these facts and factors are taken into consideration. Only uninformed persons will call for Tamil schools to be closed,” he said, adding that people should ignore these individuals and carry on improving and expanding Tamil school education for the benefit of Indian Malaysians.