FINALLY, the Court of Appeal has unanimously dismissed an appeal by four Malay-Muslim interest groups who sought to declare the use of Mandarin or Tamil in vernacular schools as illegal under the Federal Constitution.
Justice Azizul Azmi Adnan who represented the three-person bench delivered the appellate court’s decision that the use of Tamil and Mandarin as the medium of instruction in vernacular schools are constitutional.
He said vernacular schools have been long recognised in the legislative framework of the education system even before Malaya’s independence and the existence of the Federal Constitution.
Like national schools, Tamil and Chinese schools also follow the national syllabus and all rules and regulations set by the Education Ministry.
In fact, Tamil schools today are an integral part of the national education system with some 100,000 pupils in 528 schools nationwide (1980: 589 schools) . Thus, the call for closure of Tamil schools reflects ignorance, arrogance of several individuals and the narrow-minded behaviour of certain interest groups.
The question before us now is will the ruling by the Court of Appeal be a morale-booster for more Indian parents to send their children to Tamil schools? Or more is still needed to convince young parents to place their trust in the Tamil school system.
Sending their children to Tamil schools must be a choice for parents instead of it being a sentiment-based decision.
In his judgement, Justice Azizul also said soon after the constitution came into force in 1957, independent Malaya continue to preserve and sustain the teaching of Tamil and Mandatin in vernacular schools.
The Federal government had also recognised the constitutional duty to continue to preserve and sustain the use of these languages. The judge, said further that the existence of these schools and the relevant provisions in the Education Act did not offend any of the fundamental liberty provisions in part II of the constitution.
But sadly, 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.
By large and far, Tamil schools are in no way equivalent to the country’s national/Malay and Chinese schools. Budget allocation for Tamil schools has always been a major issue. Some schools are using old blocks which face structural defects.
In the past 10 years, Tamil schools have begun to perform better. But in 2020, the projected budget for Tamil schools was approximately RM29 mil which was lower than the previous year’s budget allocation of about RM50 mil.
Some Tamil schools in our country, particularly in Selangor, Perak, Johor, FT Kuala Lumpur, Negri Sembilan and Kedah do not even have enough pupils.
There is a concern that if enrolment figure does not rise, these schools will be forced to close. Moreover, most Tamil schools are not enjoying full facilities. Conditions of Tamil schools in the rural areas are even worst. Concerns are rife 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 SJK (T) Jawa Lane was opened in Seremban.
But 200 years later, the fate of Malaysian Tamil Schools continues to be in a limbo with low enrolments. It is disheartening to know that Tamil schools are in a sad state of affairs.
Though more than RM700 mil have been allocated since 2009 to significantly improve the infrastructure and basic facilities of Tamil schools, most schools are subjected to poor learning environment.
In 2022, the Education Ministry received a budget allocation of RM52.6 bil but the Chinese and Tamil schools only received a total of RM120 mil or a mere 2.3% of the overall funding.
Nevertheless, there is a growing realisation among Malaysian Indians – particularly among the Tamils – that Tamil schools should be safeguarded.
In fact, the permits or licenses of the closed Tamil schools can be used to build new schools in areas with high Tamil-Indian concentration. Improving the infrastructure of schools can also result in an increase of pupil enrolment.
Under Budget 2024, Prime Minister-cum-Finance Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has announced an allocation of RM1 bil for the maintenance of all school types, namely national, religious, Tamil and Chinese schools.
Hopefully, a rise in funding for Tamil schools would help Tamil schools be at par with other national schools. – Nov 23, 2023
The writer has served the Malaysian government at various ministries and agencies for almost 30 years.
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.
Main pic credit: Makkal Osai