State of Tamil Schools

By Jeevindra Kumar (Pro Tem Central Committee), Human Rights Party Malaysia 

You are walking in a rural or even an urban area. You see a small, run down school with no facilities to speak of, and then you see a signboard that says Sekolah Rendah Jenis Kebangsaan (T), so you stop reading and continue with your walk, not giving it another thought. 

The first time formal Tamil education was conducted in this country was in 1816, at the Penang Free School. Subsequently the Labour Ordinance of 1912 compelled estate owners to set up ad-hoc schools for the children of the labourers.  

In 1930, there were 333 Tamil schools in Malaya, increasing to a maximum of 888 Tamil schools with 50,766 students in 1957, the year Malaya gained independence. In 2007, there were 523 Tamil schools with 105,618 students. 

Under the 6th Malaysia plan (1990-1995), 2.14% of the total allocation for education was for Tamil schools, the highest ever, amounting to RM 27,042,000, or about RM 45,000 per school. Under the 7th Malaysia Plan (1996-2000), the budget for Tamil schools was 1.02% of the total allocation for education, or RM 10,902,000. The reason for the increase in allocation under the 6th Malaysia Plan was because an Indian based party was part of the opposition coalition, which later returned to the ruling coalition after the election in 1995.  

You are walking in a rural or even an urban area. You see a small, run down school with no facilities to speak of, and then you see a signboard that says Sekolah Rendah Jenis Kebangsaan (T), so you stop reading and continue with your walk, not giving it another thought. 

Or will you stand there shocked? 

The Indian government declared Tamil a classical language on the 7th of June 2004, making it the first living language of India to gain that status. Even if they did not do so, does that take away the importance of ensuring that Tamil education must be accorded the same right to funding and support as any other?  

The politicization of vernacular education must also be stopped. Education, health care, security, means of livelihood and freedom of expression are the fundamental rights of all Malaysians. To politicize the education of children is the mark of an immature country, lacking in common sense, for it is affecting the development of its own human capital.  

There is great ignorance of the wealth of learning and culture that Tamil holds. In a recent talk on Tamil history and literature, Tamil school teachers attending the talk owned up to their own ignorance of the scope of the number and quality of Tamil works available in the language. If the teachers themselves are not aware of the richness that lies at their fingertips, how can they impart it to their students? And how will they be made aware if Tamil school teachers have far less training than even the pre-school teachers of Permata? 

That will be similar to an English teacher who has not heard of Oscar Wilde and James Joyce, let alone Chaucer, though we can suspect that such teachers do exist in our national schools, judging by the decline in the standard of English among Malaysians. 

When a child walks into school for the first time, he does not know the hardship and burden his community had to face to have education available to him. The existing schools, teaching force, infrastructure and student body must be taken as a starting point for improvement, and not merely as reminders of broken promises. 

Education is too important for us to wait for political will to improve it. But that political will must be brought into play, by hook or by crook. 

The change in the power balance in the country should have meant that there will be more official support and funds for Tamil schools from the Government, but that is not happening, except in a piecemeal manner. 

RM1.5 Million allocation for the 28 Tamil schools in Penang, says Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng at about RM50,000.00 per school. From this amount the school intends to build extra classrooms, buy computers, chairs and tables, and organise UPSR seminars (Tamil Nesan 7/04/2009 at page 14). 

Selangor government will use its power by taking land belonging to individuals and companies and giving it to SKJK (C) Sin Ming for it’s expansion purposes. Menteri Besar Khalid Ibrahim says the state government has the powers and will surrender the land to SKJK (C) Sin Ming. He said this at the opening ceremony of the new school building by PKR adviser Anwar Ibrahim. Also present were Tian Chua, Gobind Singh, Teresa Kok (Utusan Malaysia 23/2/09 at page 5) The MB said he will negotiate with the developer who owns the 400 hectares of land next to this school in Puchong. If the developer wants to develop the land (then) the land for this school has to be reserved for the school hall and school field and a few other uses. The MB also donated RM50,000.00 for the school hall building fund.

RM80 Million to build MSRM Parit, says Blanja ADUN Datuk Mohd Zaim Abu Hasan (Utusan Malaysia 23/04/2009 at page 26).

RM2 Million for new Bukit Jalil Tamil schools. The condition of the school was shocking but Deputy Prime Minister (and Education Minister) Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was most impressed with the teachers and students. ‘I feel sad that they have to put up with this old and rundown school which has been around for 75 years. Despite the (RM80 Million) aid provided by the government, the infrastructure is not that good. The building could pose a threat to the safety of the students and teachers. It’s stuffy and uncomfortable. I am sympathetic to their plight’, Muhyiddin said after visiting SJKT Ladang  Bukit Jalil, near Puchong here. The school does not have a field and its classrooms are cramped. Muhyiddin announced an immediate allocation of RM2 Million for the school’s new building to be built on an adjacent 0.3 ha plot of land belonging to Kuala Lumpur City Hall. He said the new classrooms and amenities would be able to cater for about 200 students when completed next year (New Straits Times 24/04/2009 at page 6).

RM236 million to build the campus of UITM, and the Polytechnic in Balung Tawau would get RM200 million for its new UITM branch campus whereas the Polytechnic will be built in Sandakan says Higher Education Minister Khaled Nordin (Utusan Malaysia 22/2/09 at page 12). 

Dr. Mahathir in the “Malay Dilemma” at page 74 and 75 says … “For these students these scholarships are absolutely necessary. They are a means of breaking a vicious cycle. Backwardness in a modern society spells poverty. Poverty leads to poor education. Poor education perpetuates more poverty. Somewhere the cycle has to be broken and a rich country like Malaysia would stand accused of moral irresponsibility if she did not subsidies the education of the poor. They are a means to progress for a back ward community in a progressing nation. They are a means of rectifying racial Inequality.”