Why the resistance in establishing vernacular replacement schools?
Not only vernacular schools are slowly being reduced in number in the country, the government is not even encouraging replacement schools. In other words, the transfer of the licenses of schools that might be closed down for the lack of enrollment to replacement schools in other areas.
The case of Ladang Badenoch Tamil school in Kuala Ketil, Kedah is illustrative of this difficulty. One of the main reasons as to why vernacular schools are slowly reduced in number in the country is the attitude of the federal government in not allowing the establishment of new vernacular schools or transferring the existing licences to other schools.
Over the last few decades only a few vernacular schools have been established. Some of them were actually the transfer of licences of schools that were closed down to be replaced with schools in areas of high enrollment.
Theoretically, if schools are being closed down due to the lack of enrollment, there is possibility that licenses of these schools can be transferred to areas where there there is demand for vernacular education.
In fact data on student enrollment shows that Chinese and Indian parents prefer to send their children to vernacular schools as opposed to the national schools.
Even though it is difficult to establish new vernacular schools, there is a possibility that licenses of existing schools can be transferred to create replacement schools in other areas.
I understand that the licenses of some Chinese schools with low enrollment have been transferred for the replacement schools.
In this respect, these are replacement schools but not new schools.
I am not sure whether any replacement schools have been been established for Tamil vernacular education.
After more than 60 years of independence, the number of Tamil schools have been gradually reduced in the country.
Years back there were more than 1000 Tamil schools, but today there slightly more than 500 schools.
The sale of plantations, the movement of Tamil population from rural to urban areas and the priority given to national schools have impacted negatively on the increase of Tamil schools.
The impact on Chinese vernacular education has been less severe because of the location of schools in urban areas.
The cultural and educational attachment of the Chinese community to vernacular education is an important factor in the survival and academic excellence of Chinese vernacular education.
The case of Ladang Badenoch Tamil school in Kuala Ketil Kedah provides an interesting example of how the simple and straightforward transfer of this school to Penang can be complicated.
In 2021, given the low enrolment of two students, it was decided by the parents-teachers association to save the school by transferring the license to another school in a different area.
Subsequently, with the consent of the local education office and the state education department a school board (LPS) was formed to effect the transfer of the license.
Given the high demand for a Tamil school in Bagan, Penang, the Penang state government was approached for piece of land. After consultation with the land office, the Penang state government went ahead to provide a four-acre piece of land in Bagan.
Armed with this information, the board members sought the approval of the education ministry for the transfer of the licence to establish a replacement school for the Ladang Badenoch Tamil school in Penang.
In the beginning, the ministry’s planning and research department unit (EPRD) was favourable to the idea of the transfer of the license for a replacement school in Penang.
However, in another follow up meeting with officials from the education department and district education ￼in Kedah the officials of the planning division were against the transfer of the school licence to Penang.
In fact they chided the Kedah education department officials for asking the school to form the board in the first place to effect the transfer.
It was only after this reprimand that the Kedah education department cancelled the permit of the school’s board even though its expiry was end of this year.
It was this unilateral and undemocratic action on the part of the Kedah education department that might possibly spur the members of the board to think of legal action.
It was not so much the question of not allowing the board to transfer the school to Penang, but the process towards this objective was democratically thwarted.
Whether the education ministry had received any feedback from the education department in Penang remains to be seen. The Indian community would want to hear from the education ministry as to why it is stalling the establishment of a replacement school for Ladang Badenoch Tamil school in Penang.
The establishment of a completely a new school might be complicated and time consuming but certainly not a replacement school for the one that might be closed down.
The Penang government has already set aside four acres of land for the replacement Tamil school in Bagan Dalam. The Bagan parliamentary constituency has a large Indian population that can support three Tamil schools.
The existing Mak Mandin Tamil School in this constituency has a student population of nearly one thousand students.
I hope that Penang education department can support the initiative of the Indian community for the establishment of a replacement school in Bagan Dalam.
The education ministry should be fully apprised as to why Indians in this parliamentary constituency are badly in need for a Tamil school.
After all they are not asking for a new Tamil school but merely to transfer the license from the Tamil school in Kedah to a one in Penang.
The community is prepared to raise the necessary funds for building the school in the approval is given.
The ball is at the feet of the education ministry in Putrajaya.
Hopefully, the Indian community is not in for another major disappointment.