1 Nirisar

Malaysia Tamil School Essay

Getting accepted into one prestigious Ivy League university is already quite an achievement.

But for Cassandra Hsiao, a Malaysian-born student now living in the United States, she has been accepted not by two or even three universities, but by all eight Ivy League schools this year.

"It's totally surreal. It's still sinking in. I had a moment to myself yesterday where I was just sobbing. I celebrated with my parents.

"This is quite the honour, to have these fantastic institutions accept me. It's really something," she said in an interview published on the US website The Tab.

The Ivy League is a group of eight private institutions of higher education in the United States comprising Brown University, Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, Dartmouth College, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton and Yale.

They are among the most prestigious and highly-ranked universities worldwide, and are often associated with academic excellence and high selectivity of admissions.

She has also been accepted by Stanford University, Johns Hopkins University and several others.

Cassandra, 17, was born to a Taiwanese father and Malaysian mother in Johor Baru. She emigrated to the United States when she was five years old and now lives in southern California. She was also her school magazine's editor-in-chief.

She attends the Orange County School of the Arts.

"I enjoy the food and the vibrancy of the culture of Malaysia. I go back every two years," she said in an e-mail interview with The Star on Friday (April 7).

Two literary pieces on her Malaysian experiences, Pasar Malam and Ode to the Night Market, have been published in the online arts journal Rambutan Literary.

Her applications essay played a big role in her acceptance into the universities, where she wrote about learning English while growing up in a house of immigrants.

"I wanted to explore the differences between the way we talk inside and outside the house.

"Many readers, and not only immigrants, were able to connect because our language and speech patterns are different when we talk with people we love and are comfortable around," she said.

Cassandra is already a star reporter, having interviewed celebrities such as Chris Evans, Morgan Freeman and Octavia Spencer.

She plans to go into the storytelling arts.

"In the next couple of weeks, I will be visiting certain schools and exploring their programmes, learning from professors and talking with students to find a place that will be a comfortable, lovely and supportive home for the next four years," she said.

This is the essay that got her into all eight colleges:

"In our house, English is not English. Not in the phonetic sense, like short a is for apple, but rather in the pronunciation - in our house, snake is snack. Words do not roll off our tongues correctly - yet I, who was pulled out of class to meet with language specialists, and my mother from Malaysia, who pronounces film as flim, understand each other perfectly.

"In our house, there is no difference between cast and cash, which was why at a church retreat, people made fun of me for "cashing out demons." I did not realise the glaring difference between the two Englishes until my teacher corrected my pronunciations of hammock, ladle, and siphon. Classmates laughed because I pronounce accept as except, success as sussess. I was in the Creative Writing conservatory, and yet words failed me when I needed them most.

"Suddenly, understanding flower is flour wasn't enough. I rejected the English that had never seemed broken before, a language that had raised me and taught me everything I knew. Everybody else's parents spoke with accents smarting of PhDs and university teaching positions. So why couldn't mine?

"My mother spread her sunbaked hands and said, "This is where I came from," spinning a tale with the English she had taught herself.

"When my mother moved from her village to a town in Malaysia, she had to learn a brand new language in middle school: English. In a time when humiliation was encouraged, my mother was defenceless against the cruel words spewing from the teacher, who criticised her paper in front of the class. When she began to cry, the class president stood up and said, 'That's enough'.

"Be like that class president," my mother said with tears in her eyes. The class president took her under her wing and patiently mended my mother's strands of language. "She stood up for the weak and used her words to fight back."

"We were both crying now. My mother asked me to teach her proper English so old white ladies at Target wouldn't laugh at her pronunciation. It has not been easy. There is a measure of guilt when I sew her letters together. Long vowels, double consonants - I am still learning myself. Sometimes I let the brokenness slide to spare her pride but perhaps I have hurt her more to spare mine.

"As my mother's vocabulary began to grow, I mended my own English. Through performing poetry in front of 3000 at my school's Season Finale event, interviewing people from all walks of life, and writing stories for the stage, I stand against ignorance and become a voice for the homeless, the refugees, the ignored. With my words I fight against jeers pelted at an old Asian street performer on a New York subway. My mother's eyes are reflected in underprivileged ESL children who have so many stories to tell but do not know how. I fill them with words as they take needle and thread to make a tapestry.

"In our house, there is beauty in the way we speak to each other. In our house, language is not broken but rather bursting with emotion. We have built a house out of words. There are friendly snakes in the cupboard and snacks in the tank. It is a crooked house. It is a little messy. But this is where we have made our home."

Tamil primary schools in Malaysia are Malaysiangovernment-aidedprimary schools that uses the Tamil language as the medium of instruction. They are primarily attended by Malaysian Indians of Tamil descent.

Within the framework of the Malaysian educational system, Tamil primary schools are referred to as "National-type (Tamil) Schools" (Malay: Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan (Tamil)). As with other government schools, they follow the unified national curriculum, with the teaching of the Malay and English languages as compulsory subjects. All other subjects are taught in Tamil, except Science and Mathematics which are in either Tamil or English depending on the school and school grade. There are six year-long school grades, referred to as Year 1 to 6. Typically, students enter Year 1 at age six, in the calendar year they turn seven. In Year 6, students sit for a standardised test called Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR, Primary School Assessment Test). After completing their studies in Tamil primary schools, most students continue studying at national secondary schools which uses Malay as medium of instruction.

Besides providing education in the Tamil language, the schools also play a part in imparting Indian cultural and religious values to young Malaysian Indians to maintain a distinct Indian identity while fostering national unity in multiethnic Malaysia. Currently there are 523 Tamil primary schools in Malaysia.


During the British colonial period in Malaya, Indians especially the Tamils from Southern India came to Malaya as migrant workers in rubber, tea, coffee and sugarplantations.

Tamil education in Malaysia started when first Tamil primary school was established in Penang in 1816. This school was operational for few years. Later in 1870 more Tamil schools were started in Province Wellesley, North Johor, Negeri Sembilan state.[1]

As the rubberestates grew up in numbers by the end of the nineteenth century, the estate managements and the British government opened more Tamil primary schools. In addition, Christian missionaries in Malaya set up schools as a mean to proselytising Christianity. By 1905, there were 13 government and Christian mission Tamil schools in Malaya.

In the beginning, most of the schools did not last long due to lack of support and commitment from the estate managements and the government, and there was no continuous effort from the Indian community to sustain these schools. To attract more labourers and make them stay longer, the government passed a labourordinance in 1912 requiring that the estate managements had to set up Tamil schools if there were more than 10 school-going children in the estate. However many estates owners refused to build new buildings for schools, causing the children to study in dilapidated buildings and former smoke houses. Furthermore, the government in those days had not allocated funds to build Tamil schools.

Tamil schools at that time used the school curriculum from India and did not have teaching of the Malay and English languages. Emphasis was given only to reading, writing and arithmetic skills in the lower primary level and writing composition and geography was taught in the higher primary level. The children, on leaving the Tamil primary school, were absorbed into the working milieu of the plantations. Parents themselves, mostly illiterate, did not see the value or purpose of seeking out a secondary education. Furthermore, the colonial government was intending to keep the Indians in the plantations and had no interest in providing education beyond the primary level. As a result, Tamil secondary schools were not established in Malaya.

Between 1930 and 1937, there were some developments in Tamil education when the British Indian government was concerned about the mistreatment of Indian labourers in Malaya. As a result, the Malayan government set up a special committee to provide financial assistance to Tamil schools, appointed inspectors for Tamil schools and also started teachers' training. The number of Tamil schools had also increased tremendously. By 1938, there were 13 government, 511 estate and 23 mission Tamil primary schools in Malaya.

After World War II, the government started to give serious attention to vernacular education by enforcing Education Ordinance 1946. The law emphasised on free mother tongue education and increased the grant provision to Tamil schools. This move paved the way to the increase of students in Tamil schools. Number of students increased gradually from 29,800 in 1946 to 38,700 in 1949. In 1951, the Indian Education Committee reviewed Tamil education and proposed teaching of English in Year 4 and Malay in Year 5.

As Malaya began to move towards self-government and eventual independence, efforts were made to develop a national education policy. The Barnes Report, published in 1951 and enacted as the Education Ordinance of 1952, proposed a national school system with Malay and English as mediums of instruction, with the exclusion of Chinese and Tamil schools, which the Chinese and Indians protested. The Fenn-Wu Report, which allowed the retention of Chinese and Tamil schools, elicited protest from the Malays. In 1956, the Razak Report was published as a compromise; it established a national school system with Malay, English, Chinese and Tamil schools at the primary level, and Malay and English schools at the secondary level. Malay schools would be known as National Schools, and non-Malay schools as National-type schools. The report was accepted and enacted as Education Ordinance of 1956, which formed the basis of the education policy of independent Malaya.

After independence of the Federation of Malaya, Tamil schools accepted government funding and became National-type (Tamil) Schools. Under a set of arrangements, the government is responsible for funding, teachers’ training and setting the school curriculum, while the school buildings and assets remained the property of the local Indian community. Schools under these arrangements elect a board of directors to oversee and safeguard the school properties. However, due to the eventual objective of using Malay as the medium of instruction in all schools as envisioned in the Razak Report, National-Type Schools receive relatively small proportion of education funding compared to the Malay-medium National Schools.

In 2003, the government introduced the policy of teaching Science and Mathematics subjects in English in all schools. This was protested by education groups that advocate the use of mother tongues as mediums of instruction in schools. In 2009, the government announced a return to the previous mediums of instruction starting in 2012. This in turn was met with opposition from parents that support the 2003 policy. In 2011, the government released details of reimplementation of the previous mediums of instruction. While new Year 1 students would be taught in the previous language, students that had already started learning Science and Mathematics in English can choose whether to continue in English or switch to the previous language.


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