Thursday, February 28, 2008

Tertiary education problems faced by Malaysian Indians

Quality tertiary education a core issue among Indians
Prof Datuk Dr T. Marimuthu
MY relationship with MIC started in the early 1970s when I was involved in the education committee of the party while I was with the University of Malaya as the professor of social psychology in the Faculty of Education.
During that time, I was the founder president of the Educational Welfare and Research Foundation but not an MIC member.
I was doing a lot of social work, especially in the area of education for Indians and that is how I came to be involved with the party's education committee during the time of Tan Sri V. Manikavasagam.
At that time, politics was a "dirty" word -- professionals did not want to have anything to do with it, now everybody wants to get into politics for their own reasons.
My formal ties with MIC only started when they invited me to contest the Teluk Kemang parliamentary seat in 1990 because I was known to the party leadership.
I served one term as a member of parliament until 1995 and in the upper house for two terms from 1996 to 2006.
To me, being an MP was very different from being in the "ivory towers" of education.It was a drastic change for me to go on the ground and meet constituents to find out their issues and problems.
It was not that I was not used to getting down to the grassroots, but at that time, there was no ICT, no modern handphones like today to facilitate communication.
Datuk Seri S.Samy Vellu had given us an appointment letter and this big cell phone set that we had to lug around.
Teluk Kemang was a rural constituency and the issues were pretty much "common" rural problems such as roads, drainage, flood mitigation, housing and employment opportunities. This is where my first degree in rural economics came in useful.
After six months of running around, I got the hang of it.
Comparatively, demands placed on us at that time were not that high, partly because we did not have that much money to give around.
Now, it's a whole different scenario, constituents are educated and very demanding. They watch satellite television and they are constantly in the know of what is happening.
And they deliver their expectations and demands directly to their representatives and expect instant response and results.
To put it simply, the whole electorate is politicised!
I view this as a dilemma that current representatives face. But the good thing about it is that more professionals are being fielded as candidates these days.
This is very different from the time when I was given a seat, when, even my colleagues at the university were wondering why I agreed to contest. Before, representatives were made up of school teachers and small businessmen.
The other apparent change is how the education system has evolved. The poor have better access to education because of grants and free textbooks channelled to them. And the Tamil school system has certainly changed for the better from various aspects.
For one, there is significant improvement in terms of facilities and infrastructure while the performance of students have also improved.
Enrolment has also improved; middle class parents today appreciate the value of a Tamil school education.
And if in 1992, a survey revealed that 40 per cent of teachers in Tamil schools were temporary staff, now 98 per cent of them are fully trained and full-time teachers.
Even now, through the MIC, we give out free workbooks to Tamil school children, have tuition programmes for them and also organise leadership courses for principals and teachers, all for the sake of improving standards in Tamil schools.
The challenge now is for elected representatives to look at how to address the financial issues faced by kids who have done well when they reach form five. How can they enjoy quality tertiary education? This must be their focus because it is currently one of the most important issues facing the Indian community.
The other issues demanding attention are employment opportunities for the Indians and also on the issue of religion and culture.
There is also the issue of plantation workers, having been relocated to urban surroundings but being housed in longhouses for long periods, of up to 15 years in certain cases. -- Interview by Jennifer Gomez
Professor Datuk Dr T. Marimuthu is chairman of the education committee in the MIC

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