Mother-tongue education is a favourite theme amongst the minorities in any community, and there are many who feel that the best education can be given only through the mother tongue of the learner. In Malaysia, the same argument is used, with many supporting theories from various sources, by those who favour mother-tongue education.
With so many minorities living in this country, championing mother-tongue education for all the minority communities will be impractical. If only the bigger minority communities are afforded this facility, then, the smaller minorities may feel that their interests are being neglected and their children will be at a great disadvantage.
The Chinese and Tamil schools are in Malaysia due to the British colonial policy before independence and their continuation is merely for political convenience. The economic might of the Chinese in this country has given Chinese education the economic value that is harped on by the Chinese in this country for mother-tongue education.
The same Chinese in America, or even in Indonesia, have not been given the benefit of mother- tongue education, but the community has been adept in learning the language of the nation and earning enormous success.
The same cannot be said of the Tamils. Not all the Indian Malaysians are Tamils. Unlike Mandarin, which is acceptable to all the Chinese, there is no single language acceptable to all the Indians.
Tamil schools were built by the British in areas where they located Tamil labourers during the colonial period. The same British built the English schools in the towns, and the Malay schools in the villages. The Chinese built their own schools in their areas, usually on their own land.
The Indians who came into the country as professionals or officers sent their children to the urban English schools. That view that the Tamil schools are for the labour class seems to be maintained till today, and very few Tamil professionals send their children to these schools due to this perception.
For the sake of attaining independence in 1957, the existing school system under the British was kept in place to get the support of the divergent groups. At that time, the Chinese and the Indians were still applying for citizenship of the country and were in the process of making this country their home.
But 50 years after that, we are still looking at the schools from the same angle as seen by the ethnic leaders during independence. We have not grown up as Malaysians as the education system has seen to it that we stay divided.
Do we wish to stay divided? Are we so different that our children cannot share the same school?
As for the Tamils, after nearly 50 years of independence, most of their Tamil schools are still on private land and the government has not taken them over. The Tamils are not in a position to emulate the Chinese to build imposing buildings for their schools.
Many are in need of repairs and face-lifts and yearly, the Indian-based political party ends up debating and formulating resolutions to help the Tamil schools usually by appealing for help from the government. No one even bothers to ponders on the outcome of these resolutions at the next assembly, and the saga goes on and on.
For many Tamil stalwarts, Tamil schools are a form of service to the Tamil community and they are proud to be in this game. There is a great enthusiasm to congratulate the 7A students of the UPSR examinations in the Tamil schools, but, strangely not much enthusiasm is shown to follow-up on these students until they reach the SPM/STPM levels.
The quality of Tamil education has also declined considerably in the Malaysian Tamil schools due to the type of Tamil teachers. This is due to the selection of candidates for teacher-training anyone with the minimum qualification and a credit in Tamil (SPM) may be chosen as Tamil teachers.
Many of them have a shallow grounding in Tamil, and many of them do not have an inclination towards Tamil literature - a necessity to become a good Tamil teacher. Till today, no effort is made for these teachers to be enrolled into one of the many Tamil language/literature courses that are available at our own universities or through online providers.
In Malaysia, we should be talking about Tamil and Chinese as subjects that are taught well with the relevant literature. Not champion the divisive nature of 'education in Chinese/Tamil'.
Only then will all Malaysians have a single education system that does not favour or deprive any of the various groups in the country. If we can't do this after about 50 years of independence, then, we are never going to do it in the future. The nett effect of such a situation are surely more pronounced divides with more and more champions voicing slogans for different groups within the nation - a feature that will be grossly detrimental to the nation.