Wednesday, June 18, 2014

On compulsory Tamil in TN Schools

Starting this year, schools coming under the Tamil Nadu Government Board must have to have Tamil as one of the subjects. This has made a few people upset. Most notably the private schools operating under the name "Matriculation" schools. There is a long history to this. I will try to keep it as brief as possible.

Between 2006-2011, DMK Government under M. Karunanidhi brought out three important pieces of legislation in the school education space.
  1. Tamil Nadu Learning Act, 2006
  2. Tamil Nadu Schools (Regulation of Collection of Fee) Act, 2009
  3. Tamil Nadu Uniform System of School Education Act, 2010
The first one enforced that over time, Tamil will have to be compulsorily taught to every student coming under the Tamil Nadu boards. The second one put the screws on the private Matriculation schools on what sort of fee they could collect from their students. The third abolished the State Board, Matriculation and Oriental and replaced them with a single "Equitable & Uniform Syllabus".

Naturally, the Matriculation schools opposed all of the above. They were also hit by the central legislation, "The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009."

Matriculation schools are private schools which had a considerable degree of autonomy until the 2010 act. They are all English medium schools, and to start with had Tamil as one of the subjects. Over time, they started introducing subjects such as Hindi, French, German etc. replacing Tamil. So it was possible for someone to study in Tamil Nadu under a Tamil Nadu Government Board without knowing a single letter of Tamil. Not anymore.

Oriental schools were religious minority schools set up by Islamic trusts and mostly Hindu Brahminical mutts offering Urdu and Sanskrit respectively instead of Tamil. They also offered a strong dose of religious education.

The 2006 Tamil Nadu Learning impacted both the Matriculation and the Oriental schools. The linguistic minorities such as Malayala Samajams offering Malayalam instead of Tamil were also affected.

This act was challenged in the courts by the Malayala Samajam and Nair Society, but failed. An 18th Feb 2008 ruling by the Supreme Court sided with the Tamil Nadu Government and said such an act is not infringing on the linguistic minorities. The Malayala Samajam was claiming that they were imparting education through mother tongue and should hence get legal protection. In reality these schools are/were imparting education via English and not mother tongue and merely teaching Malayalam as a subject. 

However the impact of the 2006 act was not immediate as enough time was given to slowly shift new incoming students to Tamil while the old students were allowed to continue in the language of their choice till the school leaving exam. It is only this academic year that they are all expected to teach Tamil in every class, and we have started seeing the opposition building up again.

The 2009 fee control act was brought in primarily because the private matriculation schools were charging too much in terms of fees. The motive was probably political too. Many private schools have to be blamed for their excessive fees, but it should be acknowledged that the fee control committee that was set up as a follow up to this act flexed its muscles too much. With the change of government, this committee is not to be seen anywhere now.

The 2009 Right to Education act with its 25% reservation clause in it has deeply hurt the finances of the private schools. These schools are owed fees by the Government for the last two years.

The 2010 Uniform syllabus act robbed the "Matriculation" special brand from the private schools (though the private schools still continue with that name).

Private schools fought all these measures and lost in each one of them. The 2011 regime change didn't help them much. Jayalalitha tried to delay the implementation of the Uniform syllabus act, but was stopped by the Supreme Court from doing that.

Now, the full scale implementation of the 2006 Compulsory Tamil Act is being resisted again by the Matriculation schools.

There are three sets of people who do not like the 2006 Act.
  1. Linguistic minorities who share the state border with Kerala, Karnataka & Andhra. Linguistic minorities who have come and settled down in places like Chennai.
  2. Religious minorities who want to learn Urdu or Sanskrit instead of Tamil, in religious schools. Muslim organizations have already complained about this act in the recent times. I think the Sanskrit folks have completely given up.
  3. Tamils who would rather learn some other language than Tamil, simply because it is easier to crack the said language in the exams than Tamil. They however  claim that their job prospects are better now because they have learnt Hindi, French etc. This is now the vocal majority who are questioning the 2006 Act; not the categories above.
The linguistic and religious minorities have made noise, fought court cases and have sort of given up. It is the third group with no special interest protection from the constitution who are now fighting this. The Matriculation schools claim they are going to court but have not yet done so. They have fired the first salvo - an NDTV special bulletin which claims that Tamils are eager to learn Hindi. This hit job grabs a few willing people giving sound bites on their objection to the 2006 Act as below:
  • It is boring to learn Tamil
  • In the globalised world, we need to learn other languages to survive
  • Local language is important but can be learnt at home and hence it is not necessary to teach the same in school. Thus it can be vacated and something else can be inserted there.
And thus their opposition to the 2006 Act which somehow stops them from achieving their objectives.

I will accept that the Tamil syllabus is mostly boring and has not been modernised for a long time. The new books are in all-colour while the older books were in black and white. Not much has changed otherwise. You have to learn many old poems, difficult grammar (much of which is useless for the modern prose), and bad prose written in an archaic style of the pure-Tamil movement politico-linguistic scholars. Outside of the bad text books, the comparative quality of Tamil is way over that of the other subjects, making it difficult for the students of Tamil over the others.

This is why the "globalization" Tamils want to drop this subject in favour of Hindi or French. So that they can spend little time studying that subject and allocate more time for studying Math, Science and Social Science.

Supreme Court has in the past endorsed the constitutional validity of this Act. So challenging it again may be difficult and will not be easily entertained. That is why the Matriculation lobby is doing a PR campaign and NDTV is more than willing to play its part in this campaign.

What should the linguistic minorities do? CBSE schools are available in Chennai which offer Hindi and a few other languages in place of Tamil. There are a few schools offering International Program such as Cambridge Syllabus etc. There is ISCE too. The rest should switch to studying Tamil as one of the subjects simply because they have to study under a Tamil Nadu Government board. I will demand the same for the Tamils living in other states. Those who are in a transferable job across the states may have to opt for Hindi in a CBSE school.

A few Matriculation schools have already switched over to the CBSE syllabus. A correspondent who runs four schools in the outskirts of Chennai told me that he had converted two of his schools from TN Board to CBSE from this year only because he wants to offer Hindi instead of Tamil to his students. But his clientele will struggle to deal with the tough CBSE syllabus as well as Hindi. (In fact those students struggle with English! They are all mostly lower middle class, mostly backward or most backward castes and speak Tamil at home!) More such changes will happen over the next year but very soon the schools will realise that CBSE will be too hot to handle for their teachers and their students.


  1. I think your perspective and passion speak a lot in favour of an inclusive linguistic culture for the betterment of our own fellow human beings, who are forced to compete with students in the job market which is a much deeper complex phenomenon than we actually imagine, speak and write. Yet, learning our mother tongue in schools cannot simple be ruled out unless and until it is not violently imposed from the above. I think we need to strike a balance between the two. I do agree with your approach.

    1. //learning our mother tongue in schools cannot simple be ruled out unless and until it is not violently imposed from the above.//

      Mr Doss, did you ponder on why this imposition happened in the first place?
      Because, the language of the soil is given a go-bye and a student can pass university without learning a word in Thamizh.
      If you feel proud about your mother tongue, would you feel hapy about this?
      When crass commercialization and misguided nationalism impose non-native language, what is wrong in imposing the language of the soil.

      It is a very very sad state that the native speakers of one of the world's old language neither feel proud about their heritage nor interested in patronizing it.

      If not us, who else will save the language.

    2. totally agree with u.

  2. I think the entire legislation (and the undue meddling) in the language issue in schools by politicians is driven by sheer politics of the worst kind in many states in India often on a tit-for-tat basis, leading to a situation that promotes a dangerous tendency that is best described as linguistic jingoism that works against India as an united nation and a country with diverse languages of equal importance. Further, no one seems to care that it is the parent who has the best interests of their children in their minds and hearts and these parents must be allowed to exercise a reasonable choice in the matter of language. This is particularly true for families speaking a language other than the local majority language at home and those who transfer often to different parts of India to make a living. I would have expected a greater emphasis in the press of the importance of parental choice, but I am disappointed. It is a shame that state-governments in different parts of the country are lead by some of the most "career-and self-interest driven" politicians in the world who would stoop at nothing to promote their careers, including crass encouragement of linguistic jingoism with utter disdain to national unity and welfare of all citizens of this great country irrespective of the language preference for their children's schooling.

  3. Mine is a sort of loud thinking: why not remove ALL languages from the schools? All existing schools shall teach only non-language subjects. If anyone wants to learn English or Tamil or another language, he or she must attend a separate school which the government must establish for the purpose. Those language schools shall operate for a period of 3 months alone, and the non-language schools for 7 months alone in a given academic year. It shall be made compulsory that every student , subject to the class he is studying in, shall get credits in two or three languages of which the State language shall be one. Students with better abilities shall be allowed to take more than 3 languages also and get credits accordingly. To have a pass, the student must get certain prescribed number of credits from both the language schools and the non-language schools. The language schools shall be in the government sector, but every non-language school shall proportionately reimburse the expenditure depending upon the no.of students of their own schools studying the languages. This will be a revolutionary scheme, but certainly eligible for deep thought by academicians. It will be rightly suitable for a multi-lingual country like India, and every State could duplicate this after any one State implements for a period of say 5 years successfully. Based on this, the non-language schools could evolve as research-oriented ones in due course, instead of the present factories for mass production of marks-oriented teaching.

  4. - Pls read the Mother tongue policy of Singapore government as well.

  5. I am totally with Vinavu on this topic and feel that Education (and healthcare) should be totally with the Government.

    Private engineering colleges and private schools are just plain daylight robbery. For all the cost that they charge, their quality is not even good. Competition among these robbers have made unnecessary things like A/C buses, A/C classrooms, Electronic whiteboards, Coat for students (in our weather) as kind of mandatory requirements for students, thereby inflating the cost of education unnecessarily, without doing an iota of improvement on the basic teaching and learning.

    Coming to this particular issue, I wish that more schools try to switch to CBSE board and fail spectacularly. Then they will return back to TN syllabus.

    The 3rd category of people that you mentioned is the most loud group. However if the TN Government starts giving bonus marks for people who studied in TN syllabus with Tamil as the secondary language, and even more bonus marks for Tamil medium students, all these noisy 3rd category will shut up and start reading Tamil as the second language. We are after all a selfish group.

    The above is exactly what happened in the movie names debate too. All these movie makers were arguing so vehemently as if it is their birth right to name the films in English, but once the Government started giving tax benefits for Tamil names, they went to the extend of renaming films that were already marketed. But with Jaya as the CM, such a thing will not happen. I doubt if she even cares about Tamil language or Government schools. If it were not for the supreme court, she would have happily acted as the loyal leader of the private education mob.

    1. cent percent right. i totally agree with u.

  6. I am a 25 year old who studied till 12th standard in a Matriculation school with Tamil as my second language. I do not completely agree with the argument that Tamil and its textbooks are boring, difficult and useless. There could be some room for improvement, but honestly speaking, that is the case with every other subject. Also, if students study Tamil from Class I, dealing with old poems and difficult grammar is not a problem at all. A good number of us took Tamil as a second language in our XI and XII standard (most people shift to French to boost their total score) and it was by our own choice. As for the "useless"ness of the grammar in modern prose and the writings of politico-linguistic scholars, it is the larger problem with the education system itself. We usually talk about the contents of our History textbooks in this context. So lets not single out this aspect to oppose Tamil. Also I feel that some basic exposure to grammar and different types of literature is necessary to know where we come from. This exposure will create well-rounded individuals. Of course, if this pushes students to explore broader arenas, there is nothing like it.

    And as mentioned, parents can always opt to shift to CBSE schools if they do not want their kids to learn Tamil. And if I am not wrong, students who study in Kerala have to compuslorily learn Malayalam. So it is not as if Tamilnadu is imposing something unseen before.

  7. Self identity is important before having a "global" identity. Students having their choices and say it is good. Having said this without knowing to read/write once mother tongue is actually a big "sin". New generations have to be guided before they can decide for them selves what they want to do. simple u need to take first step before completing a marathon . I strongly believe that knowing once mother tongue improves cognition and it enables people equate/compare/infer/relate better to new things/learnings that they come across with their mother tongue . most of all understand the history and heritage of his/her roots.

    வாழ்க தமிழ்

  8. This land is native land of Tamils. It is the onus of Tamils to protect and safeguard their language.This also constitutional right of Tamils. The language minorities and "industrialized modern" Tamils can try seeking for opportunities ouside Tamilnadu. If they want better future for their kids, please leave Tamilnadu.

  9. This draconian dogmatic mindset of TN nativity should go once in for all. It's because of this draconian mindset people from the south are being perceived and treated as 2nd Grade / Class Citizens. Thanks to the barbaric Anti Hindi and atheist movements to degrade the true potential of people living in south, especially TN.

  10. many of friends choose SANSKRIT as second language for their kith and kins, later i stumbled upon the fact that by doing so without much efforts you have better chance of getting centem as it was valued by a close knit community. It is not the case with TAMIL, even after much efforts it is hardly impossible to get centem in tamil with its tough grammers. If u analyse people who choose sanskrit u can easily find out they are

  11. Why the Tamils are fighting for their language in Sri Lanka which is not their native? Why Karunanidhi wrote a letter to Maharashtra CM pleading not to make Marathi compulsory? Double standards, my friend!

  12. This tamil nationalism started because the first government of India formed soon after the british left India has been trying to impose Hindi..Tamil nationalism was formed due to the hindi imposition of central government. In fact hindi is a regional language with no value any where. English is truely the national language of india. Lets not forget it is the british who created India..