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.