English medium schools in Tamilnadu

"My Son does not Speak Tamil"

T. Krishnamurthy

TAMIL TRIBUNE, November 2005 (ID. 2005-11-02)
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ABBREVIATIONS

PUC - Pre-University Class


English medium schools are mushrooming all over urban centers of Tamilnadu and parents think that sending their sons and daughters to these schools is the passport to a better future. This type of "English is better, Tamil is useless" attitude started many years ago and slowly increased to the current level. Here is an incident that illustrates my point.

I completed my Pre-University Class (PUC) in the early 1960s. At that time you complete the 11-th Grade at high school, study one year of PUC at college, then go for three more years of college to get a degree. There are some core subjects and some selective subjects you can study at the PUC level. English was a compulsory subject. You learn one more language -- Tamil or some Indian language or some European language like French. You also studied a few subjects selected from a menu consisting of mathematics, physics, chemistry, botany, zoology, history, economics, psychology, advanced Tamil, advanced English, etc. Because of my interest in Tamil literature, I chose advanced Tamil as one of the selective (optional) subjects.

I had written my final examinations and was waiting for the results. One day my father and I were walking in the street. One of my father's old friends whom he had not seen for a few years was also on the street that day and he came to talk to my father. He asked what I was doing. My father told him that I had written my PUC examinations and was waiting for results. He said that his son had also written his PUC examinations and waiting for results. He asked me what subjects I took in PUC. I told him. As soon as I said "Advanced Tamil", with some type of smirk in his face, he turned to my father and said, "Oh, my son took Advanced English." Then he went on to say that only a few students study Advanced English because it was a difficult subject but it was worth it. He said proudly that they even teach Shakespeare. Then he turned to me and asked in a rather derisive tone, "Lots of students may be studying Advanced Tamil?" I replied that not many do. Then he again turned to my father and said among other things that his son now reads only English newspapers; his son speaks with his college friends only in English and he has difficulty talking in Tamil with his mother and others when he comes home for vacations.

I could not take it any more. I asked him 'politely', "So, is your son planning to move to England and live there!" He got my 'point', said curtly, "No". Then immediately said "bye" to us and left.

Both his son and I did pass our PUC examinations. I went on to study science, earned a doctoral degree and now teach at a college. I teach in English because that is the medium of instruction at the college. Last I heard that his son completed his Bachelor degree but could not get a seat for Master degree. He is working in an administrative position at a Tamil Nadu State Government office. I am not writing this to gloat that I have done well; I am writing to show that studying English does not necessarily make one's future better and brighter. Neither am I saying that studying Advanced English in PUC was wrong or studying Advanced Tamil was something great. I studied Advanced Tamil because of my interest in Tamil literature. If that man's son studied Advanced English because he wanted study Shakespeare or something else, fine. But don't look down on those who study Tamil. They are not in any way intellectually inferior or less intelligent.

Did his choice of Advanced English help him in his current job with Tamil Nadu State Government? I doubt it. If he enjoyed studying those Shakespeare plays and other English literature, that was reward in itself. Did my choice of Advanced Tamil help me in my current job as a chemistry professor? No. But I sure enjoyed my Advanced Tamil classes and even now I read Tamil literature just for the pleasure of it. Would it have helped me in my current job had I chosen Advanced English as an optional subject in PUC. No, it would not have. I did study English as a language in PUC and later during my undergraduate years. That knowledge was more than sufficient to study for my doctorate degree and now in my job.

My suggestion. Learn English. It is necessary in today's world. But don't ignore Tamil. Study that too. In my opinion Tamil should be the medium of instruction in schools. English should be taught as a subject so that one can read and understand English books in any subject, be it arts, social sciences, physical sciences or computer technology.

RELATED ARTICLES

1. 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 (7 KB)

2. Tamil: Three Anecdotes from the 1960s (by Ananthi Subramanian), TAMIL TRIBUNE, July 2006 (7KB)

3. More Articles on Tamil (not all are related to the topic of this article)

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