GOPIO Malaysia organised a forum on the challenges faced by the Tamil schools in Malaysia on the 18th of December 2022 at the IEG Campus in Kuala Lumpur. YB Senator Saraswathy Kandasami, the Deputy Minister for Entrepreneur Development and Cooperative was the Chief Guest, while the First Secretary of the High Commission of India, Madam C.Sushma was the Special Guest.
Forty-two (42) Academics, NGO leaders and Teachers participated in this half a day forum which was held from 10.00 am to 2.00 pm. Among the Speakers were Professor Datuk Dr N.S.Rajendran the former Director of the Action Plan for the Future of Tamil Schools in Malaysia under the Prime Minister’s Office, Mr Kaneswaran of Tamil Foundation, Mr Parthiban of Tamil Schools Alumni, Mr S.S.Pandian of Tamil School Headmaster’s Council and Dr Kamalanathan of GOPIO.
The forum started with the opening address by the Chair of the GOPIO Tamil School Task Force Dr Kamalanathan Sappani. The Chief Guest YB Senator K.Saraswathy, a former Tamil school product herself, spoke on the importance of Tamil education.
Professor Datuk Dr N.S.Rajendran spoke on the Challenges and Prospects for Tamil Schools. He highlighted that the achievements of Tamil schools in UPSR primary schools valuation examination for the Malay, English, Tamil, science and mathematics subjects have been on an encouraging upward trend in the past decade. The Professor shared that among the 527 Tamil primary schools in the country, 60 per cent are categorised as under-enrolled schools. Among the 300 schools which are under-enrolled, half have less than 50 students each. Prof Rajendran also pointed out that 16 of these schools have 10 or fewer students, 58 have between 11 and 25 students, and 84 of have between 26 and 50 students. Prof Rajendran also highlighted that the drop in enrollment in Tamil schools is also due to the low birth rate among the PIOs, as compared to the Malays. He also pointed out an increasing trend where more PIO parents are sending their children to Chinese schools. On future prospects, he said that 84 % of current Tamil school teachers have minimum bachelor’s degrees, with many holding master’s degrees. The support of the Community has also increased meaningfully and the perception of the Community towards the Tamil Schools over the years has improved significantly.
Kaneswaran spoke about the Board of Directors (LPS) Role in Sustaining Tamil schools and Tamil education. He highlighted that out of the total Tamil schools, 158 are government schools and 370 are government-aided schools. The total strength of the Tamil schools is about 80,000 students with about 8,000 teachers. He also pointed out that the number of Tamil school pupils was 102,642 in 2011 but dropped drastically to 80,434 in 2021. The number of LPS has increased from 10 in 2007 to 487 in 2022. He clarified that the roles of the LPS include land, building, relocation, facilities, kindergarten, computer and religious classes and funding. Kaneswaran pointed out that there were many differences and disagreements between the LPS, the PIBGs and HMs. He also pointed out political interference and conflicting news in dailies as being detrimental at times.
Parthiban Ramachandran spoke on the role of alumni in enhancing student enrollment in Tamil Schools. He explained that the Alumni are a network of former Tamil school pupils who look into the members’ welfare and also the basic needs of Tamil schools. The Alumni also provide support for pupils’ transportation, sports activities, computers, manpower, and kindergarten in certain schools. They are determined to establish alumni in every school with the support of the schools, LPS and PIBG. Parthiban said that former pupils of Tamil schools should be encouraged and invited to engage in forums and conferences. And through all these activities the alumni shall contribute and increase the enrollment of pupils in Tamil schools.
S.S.Pandian spoke on the challenges faced by low enrollment Tamil schools and highlighted that there were no officers for Tamil and Chinese schools at the national level in the Ministry of Education. He also lamented on the low allocation of funds from the Ministry to Tamil schools. Further, he said that the Ministry has centralized all final-year exam subjects, except Tamil and Mandarin languages. Pandian pointed out that the infrastructure in Tamil schools, like the internet connection, for example, is somewhat poor and needs improvement. Pandian also raised concern that the number of PIOs going to Chinese schools has increased, while those going to Tamil schools decrease.
Dr Kamalanathan in his presentation on the GOPIO Tamil School Trust Fund said that through this programme the pupils shall receive between RM50 to RM100 monthly and that pupils shall have their own individual accounts. However, a trust company shall be appointed to manage the monies. Donors will be able to monitor the account and the progress of the pupil. This initiative is important as post-secondary education is always a challenge for children from Tamil schools. Dr Kamalanathan announced that SJKT Ladang Mary will be the first school for this GOPIO Tamil School Trust Fund, to the applause of the forum participants.
First Secretary Madam C.Sushma said that having Tamil schools for 200 years is itself a success story. It shows that the PIOs give importance to their mother tongue. She also assured that the government of India can provide various educational opportunities for the PIOs whether with scholarships or affordable fees.
An open discussion was moderated by GOPIO President S.Gunasekaren where various comments and suggestions were given by other participants and observers. The forum Conclusion was also done by Gunasekaren who invited all stakeholders to participate in the efforts to assist Tamil schools. This was followed by a vote of thanks by GOPIO Secretary General S.Sashidharan where the contribution of the venue sponsor IEG Campus, the supporters and participants were all duly acknowledged.