The Tamil language, rooted in antiquity and which flourished some 2,500 years ago, is one of the oldest surviving languages. Interwoven in the culture and religion, the language has become the emotional make-up and identity of the Tamil masses. The Tamil schools form part of a struggle by cultural/language advocates in Malaysia to sustain and maintain that history, arguably at a heavy cost to the development of the human capital.

At present the Tamil schools accommodate almost 50% of school-going Indian Malaysian children. This article takes a glance at the history and status, the trend and the hope in the Tamil school system.

History and Status

The first Tamil school was set up at the beginning of the 18th century. The Penang Free School, set up by Rev. R. Hutchings in 1816, was reported to contain a class to conduct ‘formal’ Tamil education in the Straits Settlement. The 1912 Labour Ordinance compelled the planters to set up ad-hoc schools for children of the plantation labour. The number of schools increased to 333 in 1930, 547  in 1938,  741  in 1947 and to its maximum of 888 in 1957. After the country’s independence, the shift in education policy and the labour migration led to the closing down of many schools. In 1963 there were 720 such schools. By 2000 there were only 523.


Table 1 : Number of Tamil Schools and Enrolment 

Year 1957 1970 1980 1990 1993 2000
Number of schools 888 657 589 547 547 524
Number of Student 50,766 79,277 73,958 96,120 104,600 90,280

Political Dilemma and Drama

One of the weakness advocates of Tamil education is the lack of governmental intervention. Public spending on Tamil schools to date has been woefully lacking.

The allocation under the 6th Malaysia plan (1990-1995) was an unprecedented RM 27,042,000, about 2.14% of the total allocation for education. The resounding BN victory in 1995, ended the edge gained by political bargaining. The budget allocation for Tamil schools in the 7th Malaysia plan (1996-2000) was reduced to half, only RM 10,902,000 or about 1.02% of the total allocation for education. The allocation for the Tamil schools in the 8th Malaysia plan is expected to far exceed previous amounts as the development of opposition politics and the activism and demands of the NGOs.

Tamil school dilemma

Most of the Tamil schools are pathetic and disheartening. The Tamil students attend classes in a run-down school while the peers less than a kilometre away are enjoying a spanking new building, life seems rather unfair.

Dilapidated, the building lacks basic facilities such as classrooms, proper toilets, telephone and even a canteen. Instead of having access to a large field, a school hall, with lack of science laboratories and a computer laboratory have to cope with the bare necessities. The school has an enrolment of 500 students but no field, no laboratory or library, staff room for teachers or even proper toilets for students.
Most Tamil schools face the same problem. In fact, many are worse off — no canteen, no proper roofing, and sometimes, no classrooms even. “It is very demotivating. Both the students and teachers feel quite dispirited when they see the big disparity between the two schools.  There classrooms are separated by plywood. There are also only two toilets for the 500 students and there is no field for sports.

Not enough funds

Unfortunately, not much progress has been achieved since independencve. Currently,
there are 523 Tamil schools in Malaysia, of which 360 are estate schools, with a track record of being backward.

While their urban counterparts moan about the lack of computers, these estate schools grapple with fundamental problems.

The crux of the problem is the status of these schools. As they are located on private estate land, they fall under the “model school” category which means that they are only partially aided by the Government.

Under the Education Act 1995, schools located on private land are not eligible for a full grant from the Government. As a result, these schools are forced to source their own funds for their basic infrastructure, including additional classrooms.

The Government should look after the infrastructure of all schools equally. All schools should receive full aid from the Government.

It appears that the national schools are favoured while Tamil schools are like the stepchildren. This creates a learning environment which is not conducive, with the lack of adequate infrastructure and sufficient basic facilities.

My NADI urges the Education Ministry to look into the matter.

Although the research was conducted only in Selangor and Perak, it is sure reflects the rest of the country.

Tamil schools in general perform poorly compared to the national and Chinese schools.

This is an inherent problem particularly among estate schools and poor leaderships.

These are underachieving schools that have the potential to improve but due to lack of opportunity and motivation and the prevalent bad conditions, they are not able to reach their full potential The odds are against these children who come from poor homes and study at poor schools.

Teacher shortage

The pathetic state of Tamil education is worsened by the shortage of trained
teachers. It was reported that there were vacancies for more than 1,000 teachers in Tamil schools. Ministry of Education confides that temporary teachers are recruited to overcome the problem — Tamil schools have the highest number of temporary teachers. The shortage problem is further intensified by the decrease in the number of candidates sitting for Tamil in SPM and PMR.

The ministry needs to make Tamil a compulsory subject for SPM to increase the number of potential teacher trainees for Tamil medium schools.

Family background

Sixty-five percent of Indian families are from the working class with 20% working as plantation workers. The parents are unable to provide sufficient motivation for their children, or act as education role models for them. Schools are supposed to compensate for the lack of facilities at home and the deficiencies in their lives, but what happens when the schools are poor.

The parents’ attitude towards education and they literacy rate among parents is about 40%, so many are not aware of the importance of education or are even interested in the learning process of their children’s academic development. Many of these children are poor and malnourished, making it difficult for them to concentrate in class.  Many of the pupils lose interest in school, and some eventually drop out. A few are even forced to leave school and work to help their family.

Struggling from the start Estate children are further disadvantaged at entry level. Most do not have pre-school basic education when they enter primary school. The limited exposure to basic literacy skills handicaps the progress of these pupils in primary school.

Most of the parents are labourers both parents work and so they have little or no time to revise with their children. Often they do not even know about their children’s performance in school.  Because of this, weaker students tend to get left behind and lose interest. If the child is from a poor family and receives no family support, it will be difficult for him to cope in school, Some parents are not even aware when their children are not at school for weeks on end. In fact, some of them encourage their children to go out and do odd-jobs to add to the family income.

My NADI proposal  

The Education Ministry has given assurance that it will improve the poor academic performance in Tamil schools. Proposals include appointing a supervisor for Tamil schools in each state. My NADI will competence damage caused and improve all Tamil schools requirement

Primary education should be made compulsory and meaningful to estate children. Secondly, the ministry needs to ensure that the curriculum addresses the needs of the estate environment.

More importantly it to revamp of Tamil school education is necessary: These schools need financial independence. The ministry needs to look into converting all Tamil schools into fully aided ones and improve the Tamil schools condition.

My NADI also found that the previous allocated fund does not reach the schools.,. need rather it goes in the school headmasters, PIBG or the MIC leaders. The current has be abused by some selfish leader and headmasters.


One strategy is to gather Tamil school heads and teachers for courses and seminars to boost the quality of Tamil education by providing them with new
knowledge and skills, new ways of thinking, new methods of teaching and
learning.  Parents are the third target group. Meetings and seminars are held to increase parents’ involvement in all areas which is essential to enhance the children’s development.

There will be implementation of Key Performance Indicators (KPI) for all Tamil schools that will be financial and non-financial metrics which will be used to help the myNADI and the government  to define and measure progress toward Tamil school development. KPIs can be delivered through various stages depending on the resource and the magnitude of the schools’ demand and requirement. My NADI will also monitor the KPIs in real-time is known as business activity monitoring (BAM). All activities within the myNADI will be transparent with check and balance.


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