Mother-tongue education, including Tamil education, has not received the proper place in the mainstream of the national education policy and system in the past five decades of nationhood, and it is time to rectify this historical injustice by asking for fair and equitable treatment for Tamil primary schools in all aspects, whether financial, physical or other educational infrastructure support.
Many middle and upper-middle class Indian Malaysians hold the view that Tamil schools are practically useless as students in Tamil schools do not benefit either educationally or economically - and worse, Tamil schools have become a hotbed for nurturing and sustaining vices and gangsterism. This has led to calls for the closure of Tamil primary schools.
Data and statistics about the general backwardness of Tamil primary schools are quite dismal - for instance, MIC President Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu has himself said that “some schools look worse than refugee camps”, with rickety or broken chairs and tables, toilets in a horrendous state of disrepair, and most do not have libraries and staff rooms let alone science and computer laboratories.
As a counter to the argument that Tamil primary schools are the cause of the community’s socio-economic backwardness, it has been pointed out that Indian pupils are usually surpassed by their peers of other races, not only on a comparative basis between Tamil primary schools and Chinese or national primary schools, but also in the national schools.
The comparative educational backwardness of the Indian Malaysians in the Tamil and national schools is a reflection of the marginalisation and socio-economic and political powerlessness of the Indian Malaysian community which has become the new underclass in the country.
As a poor working-class minority community, the Tamils have been pushed from rural to urban poverty, from plantation worker to factory hand and from living in an estate environment to living in a squatter area to the extent that poverty has become an inter-generational problem with poverty reproducing poverty.
Strong political will is needed to overcome the grave problem of socio-economic marginalisation and powerlessness and to make the Tamil education stream sufficiently productive by upgrading the schools and its facilities, such as imrpoving the standards of its teachers and their performance.
This is one great challenge of the New Deal for Tamil Education in the Eighth Malaysia Plan.
DAP proposes that an urgent national conference be held among all political parties, Tamil mother-tongue educational and cultural organisations and individuals concerned about the future of Tamil mother-tongue education to reach a national consensus on a New Deal for Tamil mother-tongue education in Malaysia.
DAP is prepared to attend and fully participate in such a conference even if it is initiated by the MIC.