Tamil Schools: The Convenient Scapegoat for the Backwardness of Malaysian Indians

Author:   Dr. K. Anbalakan
Publisher:   GRFDT

Tamil Schools: The Convenient Scapegoat for the Backwardness of Malaysian Indians

Dr. K. AnbalakanSchool of Humanities, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia

Tamil schools have played, and still continue to play, an important role in the educational and economic life of the Malaysian Indian community. Around fifty per cent of Indian children are sent to these schools for their primary education. Yet, a kind of skepticism about the ability of these schools to provide quality education continues to linger in the minds of certain section of the Indian community even up to this day. This group blames the community’s economic and educational backwardness to the existence of Tamil schools and at a number of occasions in the past had advocated for the closure of these schools. Nevertheless, a large segment in the community has been supportive of the Tamil schools and continues to send their children to these schools. They look upon the Tamil schools as a necessity for the maintenance and strengthening of Indian ethnic identity in this multi-ethnic country.

One of the arguments put forth by those clamoring for the closure of Tamil school is that a large number of children starting their education in Tamil schools drop out halfway through thus making them fit only for low paying menial jobs. It is not denied that there is some truth in this argument. A study conducted by the Malaysian Ministry of Education, the Murad Report, in 1973, for instance, had substantiated this truth with statistical evidence. And, a 1974 study by the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), the political party that purportedly represents the Indian community in the Malaysian Government, claims that 20 per cent of the children who begin their primary education at Tamil schools drop out without completing their primary education while 39 per cent drop out before entering lower secondary and another 27 per cent before finishing their upper secondary education. This means that only about 14 per cent of children who begin their primary education in Tamil schools manage to complete upper secondary education.

It is statistics of this kind that has created the myth that Tamil schools were inferior to schools of other language medium. The Murad Report did not say that the Tamil schools were inferior to any other schools. The main reason cited by that Report for the dropout problem and poor performance of the students was the pathetic socio-economic background of those attending these schools. That aside, it may also be noted that the physical condition of most of the Tamil schools and the basic amenities available there are not at all conducive to motivate the children attending them. Dilapidated buildings, broken chairs and desks, lack of proper library, toilet and canteen facilities are common features of most Tamil schools. All these were exposed by the Murad Report. Yet, nothing much has been done to date, either by the Government or the community leaders or those calling for the closure of the Tamil schools, to overcome these problems.

The Indian community has, for years, been trying in vain to get the physical conditions of all these schools upgraded. However, the Government has been shirking its duty by claiming that these Tamil schools are not government schools but partially-aided schools as they are located in private lands. As partially-aided schools, they are not entitled for full governmental financial aid. Hence, nothing much is done to improve the conditions there. Actually, this is nothing but a weak excuse. The Government has the all-powerful vehicle in the name of Land Acquisition Act. It has acquired large portions of private land for development purposes. What is stopping the government from using that piece of law to acquire the plots of private lands occupied by Tamil schools and upgrade them as full-fledged government schools is not clear.

One other thing that needs to be put in perspective here is the dubious claim that the Indian children who begin their education in national schools excel in their education. This again is another myth. It has to be understood that about fifty per cent of Indian children begin their education in national schools. For instance, in 1995 out of the 190,000 Indian primary school children about 80,000 were at national schools. This trend has changed in favor of national schools in the last twenty years and more and more Indian parents are sending their children to national schools now. In 2015, out of more than 31 thousand Indian children who had registered for standard one, only 14,100 went to Tamil schools while the majority of the rest had gone to the national schools with an insignificant number to Chinese medium schools. Yet, the focus of interest has always been on the performance of Tamil school children and not others. Not many studies have thus far been carried out on the academic achievement of these other children. However, from random observation, it could be deciphered that the majority of these children, too, do not perform any better. Of course, there ought to be some high achievers from these schools. But, that few could also be found among the Tamil school children. These are not the rule but exceptions. And, a simple investigation would reveal that many of these high achievers come from better socioeconomic background. It is this and not the type of schools per se that had helped these children perform well in their studies.

This fact is corroborated by a study conducted by Santhiram, in 1999, on the performance of Indian students at lower secondary schools. Santhiram’s study reveals that children who had their primary education at national schools do not necessarily perform any better than those who had had their primary education at Tamil schools. Santhiram has analyzed the performance of Indian students, both from Tamil and national schools, in secondary one and secondary three exams. He argues that there was no remarkable difference in the performance between these two categories of students in almost all subjects except for the Malay language where those from national schools scored only marginally better than their counterparts from Tamil schools.

Publication Date:   Thursday, May 05, 2016
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