Dr. Selvajothi Ramalinggam
Deputy President of Tamil Foundation Malaysia
Mr. Lim Lian Geok, shall remain as the icon of mother tongue education in Malaysia, not just for the ethnic Chinese but for every ethnicity. Though deeply entrenched with the aspirations of the Chinese community in defending the linguistic and cultural rights, he sowed the seeds towards creating a multicultural and multilingual Malaysia. The strength of his character and his unwavering positioning were instrumental in challenging the ‘nation-state’ concept thus offering an alternative on the possibility of unity in diversity. Today, we cherish his dreams. The vernacular mediums are rewriting history with their success and contribution towards building a Malaysia that now can be showcased for its uniqueness with multiculturalism and multilingualism. The Indian community is overwhelmed in knowing the role of this great man who stood steadfast in defending mother tongue education. The opportunity was bestowed to some extent with the publication of the book “The Soul of the Malaysian Chinese” in the Tamil language.
The first English-language book on a man who has been beatified as the Soul of the Malaysian Chinese is Lim Lian Geok (Lim Lian Geok, Soul of the Malaysian Chinese). This book consists of information about the importance of the mother tongue or native language. Thus, Tamil Foundation had the interest and enthusiasm to translate “The Soul of the Malaysian Chinese”. In Tamil, this book sound “malesiya siinarin aanmaa- Lim Lian Geok”. This book inspired the Tamil Foundation with ideologies based on native language and the importance of mother tongue. As a result, Tamil Foundation organised several activities such as an initiative to educate the Indian society on the importance of mother tongue and to promote mother tongue education in Malaysia.
Lim Lian Geok emphasises the significance of mother tongue in sustaining our culture. From the book “The soul of the Malaysian Chinese” he spreads the fact that the community can adapt their culture and traditions through learning their native language. He put forth that using mother tongue or native language in daily life can lead to the community’s establishment of positive values. A native language should be a family language policy where the younger generation can learn how to value their culture and heritage. Moreover, the native language teaches the community to take pride in their respective cultures and roots. In addition, speaking in the mother tongue also strengthen the bond between family members. So, what is the connection with Tamil Foundation activities? We are giving importance to preserve and promote our culture by organizing cultural programs such as Ponggal and Tamilar Thirunaal, where it unites the family and communities.
Subjects in mother language
In the view of Lim Lian Geok (LLG), subjects should be taught in their mother language. It will be effective and convenient for the children to understand the subjects. Learning major subjects in their first language also conveys values and beliefs directly to the children. Hence, LLG had protested to create a grasp among the community about the need for the children to learn major subjects in their first language. This inspired Tamil Foundation to propose that subjects such as Mathematics and Science should be taught in mother languages to ensure the students adapt the subjects proactively and enable them to learn moral values, principles, and ethics directly from their mother language.
Lembaga Pengelola Sekolah (LPS)
On the other hand, LLG also had fight to sustain the use of mother language through maintaining more vernacular schools. LLG was insisting that more native language or vernacular schools should be established and maintained. Seeing the increase in social problems, it is clear that the higher the number of native schools, the higher the value of our culture. From the endeavor of LLG, Tamil Foundation had the idea to strengthen the number and standards of Tamil schools. For instance, Tamil Foundation researched the importance of the School Board of Governors or well known as Lembaga Pengelola Sekolah (LPS). In the year 2007, only less than 10 schools had their governors. The fact that we cannot deny that, by these initiatives, now, in 2021, around 480 schools had successfully formed their LPSs. LPS helps to resolve the problem concerning the school lands and buildings, assists in finding an effective solution to schools facing closure, and helps to ensure that the schools received the financial allocation given for them. Tamil Foundation referred and followed Chinese school’s framework to form and develop LPSs in Tamil schools. Eventually, we can say that our mother languages will be sustained better through developing more Tamil Schools.
Teachers and Trainings
In addition, LLG also notes an important point that teachers are the bridge for students and education, by saying that “It is the duty of the teacher to show the right path and to teach to allay all doubts”. Therefore, teachers play an important role to civilize and educate the community. Moreover, the Chinese community also respects the teachers more than their parents. The education from school provides intelligence of cultures, traditions, ethics, and moral values. Undoubtedly, school teachers play a vital role in educating students in their mother tongue. As a major step, Tamil Foundation organized the Centre of Leadership and Management for Tamil Schools (CLMTS) as an initiative to provide training for headmasters and senior assistant teachers to enable them to make Tamil schools high performing schools. This is because, leadership is a very essential component for all the school board members, headmasters, parents and teachers association members, parents, and even for children aspiring to be an outstanding individuals in our community. Proper leadership quality will lead a community towards a better future.
Collaboration with multiracial NGOs
The ideologies from this book also unclosed the paths to collaborate with other organizations to defend our native language. For example, Tamil Foundation joined force with organizations such as Dong Jiao Zong and Dong Zong in the effort of defending and developing mother tongue education in Malaysia. Tamil Foundation is also a member of GBM, a coalition of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and committed to addressing the important concerns and challenges confronting Malaysia in the twenty-first century. Collaborating with multiracial NGO’s enable us to reflect more on the country’s unique history and diversity, as well as its diverse cultural heritage. This also helps us to develop a deeper understanding of our own and other people’s cultures, while broadening the mind and increasing tolerance.
LLG and Tamil community
According to Mr. Supramaniam Ramasamy, LLG had protested in several ways on saving the mother language and vernacular schools which has contributed to a significant impact on the Chinese community and other ethnicities. Mr. Supramaniam Ramasamy impressed by LLG’s action where he insist that the government should support all the mother language schools without discrimination and he petitioned all the native languages should be treated equally. It was a key factor to save and sustain other mother languages in this country. Besides that, he said that this book has cultivated the thought in him that mother language education is the greatest education for the community. Mr Supramaniam said it is a community’s right, not a privilege to receive education in their mother tongue. The community will be well structured with etiquette by learning mother tongue education. In conclusion, this book served as a foundation for Tamil Foundation and the community to raise awareness on the importance of native language education in order to have a brighter and sustainable future for their mother tongue and culture.
Much to our delight UNDP’s Human Development Report 2004, states, ‘New today is the rise of identity politics. In vastly different contexts and in different ways – people are mobilizing anew around old grievances along ethnic, religious, racial and cultural lines, demanding that their identities be acknowledged, appreciated and accommodated by wider society. Suffering discrimination and marginalization from social, economic and political opportunities, they are also demanding social justice. Also new today is the rise of coercive movements that threaten cultural liberty. And, in this era of globalization, a new class of political claims and demands has emerged from individuals, communities and countries feeling that their local cultures are being swept away. They want to keep their diversity in a globalized world.
What a beauty, are not they the aspirations of LLG.
The Malaysian state must realize that the “cultural, linguistic and intellectual capital” of the nation will rise tremendously with the recognition and practice of cultural and linguistic diversity.