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Tamil schools, sacrificial lambs of a political agenda
Prof P Ramasamy

Malaysian Tamils and Tamil  Linguistic Culture By:Harold F. Schiffman 

Tamil education has its merits By Sharon Nelson

Moving forward together with MIC By: Denison Jayasooria


Tamil school problems

Is abolishing Tamil schools the solution? (M Nadarajah)

 Closing Tamil schools may lead to a loss of identity By:Harold F. Schiffman 



Moving forward together with MIC
Denison Jayasooria

4:00pm, Sun: opinion Contrary to the critics, MIC is the largest grouping of organised Indians which has gained the confidence of a majority of Indian Malaysians.
This is reflected in every general elections held in Malaysia. While there is democratic space to reflect critically, it is imperative that there is a uniting of different sections of the community in addressing the social needs, issues and concerns of the community.
This is the 'smart partnership' so often highlighted in contemporary governance between public, private and civil society.

No one organisation whether political, socio-economic, religious, cultural, education can effectively claim a total monopoly of the community. It is the MIC that is the lead organisation for the Indian community in Malaysia.
While individuals might differ in their understanding and perception, they cannot deny the role the MIC has played and is playing in championing the cause of the Indian Malaysian community under the leadership of S Samy Vellu.

Doubtful poll
One key area is Tamil school education. Over the years there has been tremendous effort in championing this issue through the rebuilding of Tamil schools and infrastructure developments to ensure a better quality of teaching and environment in the schools.
Numerous dialogues and sessions have been held with headmasters, teachers and parents on the one hand and with education ministry officials on the other. This has borne fruit as shown by the very positive results obtained by Tamil schools in last year's UPSR exam.
This is an ongoing process and together we will strive. With an increasing number of Tamil parents sending their children to Tamil schools as reflected in the recent intake, it is important for the community to lobby the government for the improved facilities and a quality of teaching-learning experience.
S Samy Vellu no doubt will be at the head of leading new initiatives for the Tamil schools.
The recent New Straits Times article on Tamil education published on Jan 9, while highlighting some critical dimensions, contained a number of inaccuracies and a distortion of reality.
First, no details were given on the NST online poll, namely the background of the parents who responded to the questions of Tamil school education. A majority of NST readers would be middle-class English-educated Indians who have negative view of Tamil schools and who themselves have not been to Tamil schools.
Methodologically, this sample would not be reflective of the entire Tamil population or the aspirations of parents who place their confidence in Tamil schools.
Narrow focus
Second, on the issue of inadequate facilities in Tamil schools, while there is room for improvements, there have been systematic attempts to improve the conditions.
There might be shortage of classrooms in certain schools however based on a recent survey undertaken by the Yayasan Strategik Social, but there aren't 'hundreds of Tamil schools without blackboards, chalk, tables and chairs' as claimed by one Sathish Ramachandran.
He must produce a list of these 'hundreds of schools' or apologise to the community for painting a negative picture of Tamil schools and Tamil school education.
It is this negative image projection and stereotyping which is re-enforcing images of the Indian community as backward and non-progressive community in modern Malaysia. It is a sweeping over-generalisation that must be substantiated with accurate facts.
Third, while I recognise the zeal and commitment of certain individuals for Tamil school education, I disagree with their narrow focus on only primary education as the solution to the community's social mobility. The educational and human resource development of the community has to be reviewed from pre-school to postgraduate qualifications.
A number of critical points have fail to be recognised. If a former Tamil school student has managed to become a lawyer, his aspiration must be for all Tamil school students to pursue higher education.
Surprising language
In this context the new MIC university will be an additional avenue to apply to. Education in the United Kingdom is not only outside the reach of many parents who send their children to Tamil school but also for most middle-class families due to the high exchange rate.
However, the MIC university will provide opportunities not only in medicine but also in science and technology. Access to affordable higher education is one critical dimension that must be addressed to ensure the community has more options before them.
I am surprise by the language used by one S Pasupathi in the NST article. He said: "I don't know where the leaders have their brains". I am even more concerned by the editorial policy of the New Straits Times in publishing it. This statement and unprofessional approach raises questions as to the true intention of the speaker, writer and publisher.
Why can't these individuals recognise that the Barisan National-led government has given the approval to MIC to set up this Indian Malaysian-owned university? It is the only one in the country with a majority Indian ownership and where the vice-chancellor will be an Indian.
Why is it when the MCA received approval for its university, the Chinese community rallied behind it but in the case of the MIC, some so-called professional Indians decried the achievement?
There are many differences of opinion within the Chinese community yet on education they work together. Why can't the Indians do likewise?
Strength in unity
Indians must work together. For far too long sections within the community have sought to build their little kingdoms that keep the community divided. MIC provides the largest base for common networking and joint action. Let us find common ground, pool our resources and build our community.
Let this be a year of vision and goal-getting, putting our differences aside and mobilising the entire community - political, social, religious, business and educational sections - for the advancement of the community and nation. After all, united we stand, divided we fall.

DR DENISON JAYASOORIA is the exective director of the Yayasan Strategik Sosial, the community development arm of the MIC.

The sad reality of Tamil schools
Marutha Nayagam
5:12pm, Fri: I refer to Dr Denison Jayasooria's contention that the performance of Tamil schools has improved through the efforts of MIC (Moving forward together with MIC, Jan 13). He refers to the positive results in last year's UPSR exam.
What he has not highlighted is that Tamil schools consistently underperform in the UPSR compared with national and Chinese schools. Last year, only 33 percent of Tamil school students achieved higher than the minimum required grade of C in all subjects compared with 47 percent for Chinese schools and 52 percent for national schools.
On the other hand, seven percent of Tamil school students scored grades D/E in all subjects compared with three percent for Chinese schools and six percent for national schools.
The performance of Tamil school students in Bahasa Malaysia is appalling. Only 55 percent attained grade C or better in the Ujian Kefahaman compared with 65 percent for Chinese schools and 88 percent for national schools.
It was even worse for the Ujian Penulisan: only 40 percent attained grade C or better compared with 57 percent for Chinese schools and 84 percent for national schools.
The underachievement in Bahasa Malaysia is a critical factor in the overall underachievement of Tamil school students in secondary schools.
Going by the results for 2001, 60 percent of students from Tamil schools enter remove class without even the minimum level of writing skills in Bahasa Malaysia. How can these students be ever expected to cope in secondary schools or make it to the MIC university?
MIC has to face the reality of the failure of the Tamil school system and not delude itself and the community by highlighting the one percent of students from Tamil schools scoring As in all subjects in the UPSR.
It is the other 99 percent that the MIC has to worry about. It is a fact that most Tamil school students are from the lower income group and face the disadvantages and barriers of poverty and social marginalisation.
However, by no means are these students inferior in learning aptitude and capabilities. What they need is a nurturing school environment and innovative learning programmes to help them overcome their social and economic disadvantages.
The sad reality is that what MIC can actually deliver to the Tamil school system is very limited. MIC is unable to alter the gross inequities arising from misguided national education policies related to resource allocation, curriculum and management of vernacular schools.
It is also unable to enhance the commitment and professionalism of Tamil school teachers and headmasters despite many of them being MIC members and active MIC politicians. Nor can the community expect MIC to alleviate the myriad economic, housing and social conditions of the families of children attending Tamil schools.
MIC's role in the Tamil education system therefore remains as one of establishing political patronage and perpetuating the politics of chauvinism in Malaysia to ensure that the party remains relevant to the Indian Malaysian community.
The party therefore neither has the political will nor the principled leadership required to champion Tamil education (it will be interesting to determine how many MIC leaders send their children to Tamil schools).
This is why the call by Jayasooria to "work together (with MIC) through common networking and joint action" sounds rather hollow.
The Tamil education system can only be improved through concerted local level initiatives by parents, committed community leaders, teachers, headmasters and concerned individuals.
These initiatives should focus on key areas such as strengthening early childhood care and education, modernising learning facilities, modes and the school environment, enhancing the effectiveness of teaching Bahasa Malaysia and improving the service conditions, professionalism and commitment of teachers and headmasters.
If MIC is sincere about improving Tamil education, it should commit the required financial resources to these initiatives and de-politicise the Tamil education system.
The question of whether MIC needs to set up a university or not is irrelevant to the thousands of Tamil school children who are being condemned to a lifetime of underachievement every year.

Saturday January 19
MIC's university project a misplaced priority
S Nagarajan
2:58pm, Sat: opinion Yayasan Strategik Sosial executive director Dr Denison Jayasooria's opinion piece entitled 'Moving forward together with MIC' on Jan 13 in malaysiakini was obviously written to rebut the views expressed by two concerned individuals in a New Straits Times article on Jan 9.
This is a vintage MIC diversion tactic; question the motive of the writer and publisher, attempt to discredit the dissenters, raise irrelevant matters to mislead readers and avoid discussing the core issues.
One of the concerns raised by lawyer and Tamil educationist S Pasupathi in the NST article was the rationale for MIC to squeeze millions of ringgit out of a poor community to set up a private university while the foundation of pre-school and primary education is still weak.
True, individuals and numerous organisations, including the MIC, have made efforts over the years to improve Tamil schools. But much more needs to be done to lay a stronger foundation at pre-school and primary Tamil school levels. Only with a sound primary education will children from low-income families be able to move-on to secondary and tertiary education.
It is in this context that the plan by MIC to spend over RM400 million on a private university was criticised. This is a lot of money to be raised from a community mired in social problems. A more beneficial step will be to spend such funds in areas of immediate need.
Step one - prepare more children from poor families to qualify to enter existing public universities and private colleges. With better results, they will qualify for scholarships and other loan schemes.
Children from middle class families who want to take up medicine are able to find places in medical colleges in India and Indonesia. There is no urgent need to invest limited funds in a new private medical college. Besides, there is the International Medical College in Kuala Lumpur and the Melaka-Manipal Medical College.
Step two - to provide skills and create employment opportunities for school dropouts who may otherwise be drawn into the world of gangs and crime.
Pride and symbolism
In light of this reality, consider Dr Denison's arguments:
'Why can't these individuals recognise that the Barisan National-led government has given the approval to MIC to set up this Indian Malaysian-owned university? It is the only one in the country with a majority Indian ownership, and where the vice-chancellor will be an Indian.
'Why is it when the MCA received approval for its university, the Chinese community rallied behind it, but in the case of the MIC - some so-called professional Indians decried the achievement? There are many differences of opinion within the Chinese community yet on education they work together. Why can't the Indians do likewise?'
Flabbergasting, indeed! So, it is all about pride and symbolism. Over RM400 million is to be invested just to have the satisfaction of an MIC-owned university and an Indian vice-chancellor.
It is precisely these misplaced priorities that well-meaning members of the community are contesting.
The question is not about 'recognising' the fact that MIC has obtained government approval for a university. It is great that MIC will be setting up the university for the advancement of Indian Malaysians. It will be even better if the university provides free education for Indian Malaysians from poor backgrounds.
But shouldn't the MIC leadership finance the university entirely from their own resources? It is not that Indian Malaysians are unwilling to rise to the occasion. The bone of contention is the further taxing of a poor community to finance the project.
Indian, however, have rallied to the support of such projects for their advancement in the past.
Maika debacle
Take the example of Maika Holdings. There was a groundswell of support for the venture. Ordinary Indian Malaysians sold their goats and cows, pawned their family jewellery and took out loans to invest in the venture.
Over RM100 million was raised. That was about 20 years ago. By now the investment should have grown to over RM1 billion with possible ownership in several public-listed companies.
Sadly, its story today needs no elaboration. The goodwill, enthusiasm and trust of the community was betrayed. The villains: mismanagement, political interference and appointments.
Today, the MIC is back again with its exhausted cry of Indian Malaysian unity and advancement. It is too late to pound any sense into MIC's mandore-style leadership. The project has started anyway.
Hopefully, this time there will be no political interference. And we ask that a more professional management be put in place for the sake of the community.

S NAGARAJAN is a former journalist and currently a research student at the Institute of Postgraduate Studies and Research, Universiti Malaya.

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