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LETTER | Why no Tamil scholar in education advisory council?

LETTER | The National Education Advisory Council (NEAC) has been revived to tackle issues facing the education sector including school dropouts, racism and extremism in schools.

The former director-general of education, Amin Senin is heading the NEAC. Among others, the main focus of the council is to examine the issues of the workload borne by teachers, including clerical duties, which have become a critical issue among educators.

Mohamad Fauzan Noordin has been appointed deputy chairperson while other council members include Omar Yaakob, Mehander Singh Nahar Singh, Noor Inayah Ya'akub, Mohd Abd Aziz Mahmud, Aminuddin Awang, Rusilawati Mohd Salleh and Chee Poh Kiem.

But we are surprised, there’s no Tamil, Sabahan or Sarawakian in the NEAC.

When everyone gets to contribute their ideas and leverage each other’s strengths, those ideas can help NEAC formulate and improve the direction of education in the country.

Since education is a priority, it should be inclusive of all schools irrespective of the medium of instruction or type of school.

As we know, the state of Tamil schools in the country will always be a cause for concern. Though after 65 years of independence, Tamil schools are in an extremely worrying state. The vast majority of the students come from poor households.

Rural schools in the deep interior of Sabah and Sarawak too are in appalling condition-wooden classrooms, teachers’ quarters and boarding houses are cramped and in bad shape.

The education ministry has recently identified more than 300 dilapidated schools in the country that need immediate repairs and maintenance including in Sabah and Sarawak.

Improve Tamil school education

The NEAC must focus on new ideas in order to improve Tamil school education, emphasise soft skills to inculcate character, and welfare of teachers and address poverty among B40 students.

Now there are only 528 Tamil schools in the country with a total of 79,309 students. In 1980, there were 589 Tamil schools.

Tamil schools are facing closure due to low enrolment or combined with other schools according to the ministry’s policy.

With falling enrolment, Tamil schools are facing a bleak future. Schools should be allowed to move to Indian majority areas to have higher student enrolment.

The Tamil schools are in no way equivalent to the country’s Malay and Chinese schools. Budget allocation for Tamil schools has always been a major issue. Some schools are using old blocks which has structural problems.

In the last 10 years, Tamil schools have begun to perform better. But in 2020, the projected budget for Tamil schools was approximately RM29 million which was lower than the budget allocated the previous year which was about RM50 million.

Some Tamil schools in our country, particularly Selangor, Perak, Johor, Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur, Negeri Sembilan, and Kedah do not have enough students.

There is a concern that if enrolment does not rise or even the facilities are not improved, these schools will be forced to close. Most schools are not enjoying full facilities. Conditions of Tamil schools in rural areas are even worst. It is afraid that those schools may soon disappear.

In 1816, Malaysia’s first-ever Tamil class took place in Penang Free School. In 1897, the country’s first Tamil school was opened in Seremban at SJK (T) Jawa Lane.

Two hundred years later, the fate of Malaysian Tamil Schools continues to be in limbo with low enrolments. It is disheartening to assume that Tamil schools are in a sad state of affairs.

Though more than RM700 million have been allocated since 2009 to improve the infrastructure and basic facilities of Tamil schools significantly, most schools are subjected to poor learning environments.

Last year, the Education Ministry received a budget allocation of RM52.6 billion. From this figure, the Chinese and Tamil schools only received a total of RM120 million.

There is a growing realisation among Tamils in particular and Malaysian Indians generally that Tamil schools should be safeguarded.

The permit licenses of the closed Tamil schools can be used to build new schools in areas of high Tamil-Indian concentration. Improving the infrastructure of schools can also result in an increase in student enrolment.

We hope the NEAC will lift education standards by giving an opportunity to experts of all races from the teaching profession to serve on the NEAC so that the best ideas are implemented.

Let’s begin by having a truly Malaysian council. Malaysia is a melting pot of cultures, religions and beliefs that had enriched the nation’s social fabric and made it conducive to knowledge and technology.

The writer has served the government at various ministries and agencies for almost 30 years.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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