Malaysiakini Letter

USM's 12-year Tamil language saga

Senthil Nathan  |  Published:  |  Modified:

It was indeed very surprising that there are suggestions to make Japanese a third language whereas learning Mandarin will be much more useful and economical as well as universal. Mandarin-speakers are the largest in the world with over one billion of them.

This also makes us wonder if importance is being given to our own citizens and their cultures. Having ‘little Napoleons’ in various places only makes such simple things seems so difficult to be exercised.

On my personal experience in USM, for more than 30 years there, were many, many languages in the Pusat Bahasa. This included Arabic, French, Thai and many more foreign languages. For some reason, there were no Tamil language and when we enquired , the dean said there was a lack of support from students etc.

So to prove a point, student volunteers became part-time teachers to teach other students the language as a trial programme. Mind it, it was on personal basis as no club or even the Indian Cultural Society not willing to undertake this cause.

After one year, the classes had many students but the dean said, ‘We need to see statistics, please show us statistics’. So the second year was full of paperwork while the students-cum teachers ran their classes on Fridays from 12- 3pm for an entire year.

When presented with the statistics on attendance, the dean, simply said, ‘You did not have exams for the students, so there is proof the teaching was done properly’.

Third and fourth year volunteer teachers kept on with their Tamil-language private classes without fail and even streamlined four different levels and had exams for the students. All this was happening while they themselves had their own coursework and degrees to think about.

After applying for recognition from the university authorities for the fifth time, they realised that the authorities were simply delaying the approval hoping that the matter would eventually be forgotten after those who started it left the university upon graduation.

Nevertheless, the torch was passed from seniors to juniors who kept the work going and even recruited Chinese students who were at the mercy of the whims and fancy of the Pusat Bahasa management.

I was among those who came in the sixth year and stayed on until the ninth year. Seeing the dedication of the student/teachers and the unsupportive university authorities, we pushed the matter to the vice-chancellor who again told us to meet the dean.

Some students who graduated even continued with their masters just to ensure the success of this project but to no avail. No arguments were valid for the university authorities; they gave us all kind of excuses including the economic value of the Thai and Japanese languages compared to Tamil and unsupportive students once the language is offered (this is ironic, because they never tried offering it in the first place).

They even had the cheek to say students who took Tamil for SPM might score high results for the university Tamil paper examination.

After 12 years of non-stop effort, The Pusat Bahasa in USM finally accepted Tamil language as a paper and classes are now officially run. Thanks to the dynamic students who wanted to make a difference while sacrificing their quality time in university.

This has been entirely their effort from the start and it only proves that we have to struggle for what should have been given to us in the first place.

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