Tamil medium education in Tamilnadu

Support the Chief Minister on Tamil Medium Education in Schools

Inia Pandian

TAMIL TRIBUNE, Month 2000 (ID. 2000-01-02)
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1. Introduction

2. Judge Mohan Committee

3. The Quebec Experience

4. Opposition to Education in the Mother Tongue

5. Court Case against Education in Mother Tongue

6. Enact New Laws if necessary

7. Affiliation with CBSE


BJP - Bharatiya Janata Party

CBSE - Central Board of Education

DMK - Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam

1. Introduction

Many Tamil organizations have been requesting the Tamil Nadu State Government for years to make Tamil the medium of instruction in schools. This request was made because of the mushrooming of English medium private schools throughout the state. These schools not only teach all subjects in English from the first grade (or kindergarten), many of them do not teach Tamil even as a subject. Some schools went to the extent of prohibiting students from talking in Tamil on school premises even during lunch breaks and intermissions. One school punished a student for speaking in Tamil by making him wear a board around his neck with the inscription "I will not speak in Tamil". This is such high-handed actions by some English medium schools and the fast spreading of English medium schools in ever increasing numbers that prompted Tamil organizations to ask the State Government of Tamil Nadu to make Tamil the medium of instruction in all schools under its jurisdiction.

It is worth noting that most of these English medium schools are in urban areas and that only the rich and the well to do can afford to send their children to these schools because of the hefty fee they charge. Some middle class families cut corners in other areas like food, clothing and housing to send their children to these schools. Some have even taken loans for this purpose.

2. Judge Mohan Committee

Chief Minister Karunanidhi, whose love for Tamil is well known, appointed a committee under retired Supreme Court Judge S. Mohan to study the question of medium of instruction. The committee, after studying the various issues relating to the question, recommended that Tamil or the child's mother tongue should be made the medium of instruction up to Grade 5 "to retain Tamil pride and to inculcate in students a sense of belonging to the motherland." The government also quoted psychologists who said that children learn faster and better in their mother tongue. Tamilnadu State Government issued an order on January 13, 1999 that all schools under its jurisdiction should have Tamil or the mother tongue as the medium of instruction up to Grade 5. This order applies to all schools in Tamil Nadu except for the couple of hundred schools affiliated with CBSE; they come under the jurisdiction of the Indian Central Government.

3. The Quebec Experience

We would like to stray a little from the course of events in Tamil Nadu to a far off land, Canada, particularly the Canadian Province of Quebec. We will come back to the events in Tamil Nadu in Section 4.

The Province of Quebec is populated primarily by French speaking Canadians while the other Provinces are mostly English speaking Canadians. Many thousands of foreigners from all over the world immigrate to Canada every year. Quebec attracts its share of immigrants like the other provinces. Most immigrants to Quebec sent their children to English medium schools. This went against the Provincial Government's efforts to increase the use of French in all spheres of life in the Province. So the Provincial Government ordered that everyone whose mother toungue is not English should send their children to French medium schools. This ordinance has been in effect for several years and is working well. Tamil Nadu Government's order is not much different.

4. Opposition to Education in the Mother Tongue

As soon as the Tamil Nadu Government Order on Tamil or mother tongue as medium of instruction was issued, owners of English medium schools and many of its teachers came out against it. These people have a vested interest in providing English medium education to children from rich and well to do families. Owners of the schools make a lot of money from the hefty tuition fees they charge. Teachers in these schools usually get a higher salary than their counterparts in government schools (Tamil medium) because the owners can afford to pay higher salaries.

They went on a publicity campaign, giving interviews to newspapers and magazines, on the drawbacks of learning in one's mother tongue instead of in English and the injustice of asking First Grade students to learn in their mother tongue instead of in English. They asked Chief Minister Karunanidhi to withdraw the order. He refused.

A teacher in one of these schools told a reporter that they would launch an anti-Tamil agitation if the government order was not withdrawn. An anti-Tamil agitation in Tamil Nadu? What some people would do for a few extra rupees!

5. Court Case against Education in Mother Tongue

An organization representing some of the English medium schools filed a petition asking the court to invalidate the government order on medium of instruction. The judge ruled against the petition. So the organization filed an appeal with the High Court. Verdict is pending.

6. Enact New Laws if necessary

If the High Court were to invalidate the Government Order on medium of instruction on some legal grounds, Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly should pass a suitable law to ensure that the Government Order meets legal scrutiny. The ruling party, DMK, has the necessary majority in the legislative assembly.

If it were necessary to enact a suitable law at the Indian Central Government level, then again, DMK is a key partner in the ruling coalition. Moreover the Tamil Nadu wing of the principal partner of the coalition, the BJP, has publicly supported Tamil Nadu State Government's order on medium of instruction. So there should be no problem in enacting a suitable law at the central government level, if necessary.

7. Affiliation with CBSE

A spokesperson for English medium schoolteachers told reporters that, if the court refuses to invalidate the Government Order, the English medium schools would seek affiliation with CBSE, and thus be outside the jurisdiction of the Tamil Nadu State Government. What is this CBSE - the Central Board of Secondary Education? CBSE affiliated schools come under the jurisdiction of the Indian Central Government. Curriculum for CBSE schools is set by the central government. English medium education is allowed. Hindi is compulsory. The child's mother tongue need not be taught; in fact many of the 200 or so CBSE schools in Tamil Nadu do not teach Tamil, only Hindi and English.

We consider the CBSE schools in Tamil Nadu to be an Indian Government intrusion into the education of Tamil children. We hold that these schools are stepping on the authority of the state governments in setting up a suitable educational system for young children according to the cultural and linguistic needs of the state.

Affiliation to CBSE is not automatic. The Indian Central Government can reject applications for affiliation. Granting CBSE affiliation to the more than 20,000 English medium schools in Tamil Nadu would be a mockery of the state's authority on elementary education of its children. It would be like mocking at Tamil Nadu State Government Order on medium of instruction and spitting on Chief Minister Karunanidhi's face. The Chief Minister, whose party is a major partner in the ruling coalition at the Indian Central Government should ask Prime Minister Vajpayee not to grant CBSE affiliation to any of the English medium schools in Tamil Nadu.

If the BJP Government of India were to grant CBSE affiliation to any of these schools, DMK should withdraw its support to the BJP Government, whatever the consequences be. Yes, DMK will lose its ministerial posts in the central government. Yes, the BJP Government may fall, there may be new parliamentary elections and DMK may or may not fare well in the election. Yes, the BJP Government of India may dismiss the Tamil Nadu State Government of Karunanidhi. What is more important? A few ministerial posts in the Indian Central Government or protecting the future of the millennia old Tamil language? 

As for the people of Tamil Nadu, we ask all Tamil people, irrespective of party affiliations, to rally behind Chief Minister Karunanidhi if he would stand steadfast on this key issue of Tamil medium education in schools.

We make it clear to the Indian Government - present and future - BJP or Congress or whoever - that granting CBSE affiliation to even a single English medium school, thus thwarting the Tamil Nadu State Government Order, is an affront to Tamil and Tamil people.

(NOTE: This writer is not opposed to teaching English in Tamil Nadu schools. In fact all schools in Tamil Nadu teach English. If necessary, strengthen the English curriculum. What we oppose is teaching all the subjects in English instead of in Tamil or in the child's mother tongue.)


1. EDITORIAL: Bouquets to Chief Minister Karunanidhi! (by Inia Pandian), TAMIL TRIBUNE, December 1998

2. AN EXCHANGE OF VIEWS: Tamil Medium Education in Schools ( Ilango Veerasingam: "It is a futile exercise", Inia Pandian: "It is a wise decision"), TAMIL TRIBUNE, March 1999

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