KUALA LUMPUR, July 22 — Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim today pledged to discuss with Education Minister Fadhlina Sidek how current requirements set for Tamil to be taught as an additional language in secondary schools can be relaxed.

Speaking when officiating the 11th International Tamil Research Conference at Universiti Malaya (UM) here today, Anwar said the current condition requires a minimum of 15 students for a Tamil language class to be held.

“I will alert and suggest the Ministry of Education make the necessary adjustments, although if we set the condition (number) to 10, we should allow nine or 11 students also.

“(This is) just to allow students to master an additional language. In schools around the world, like the United States and China, people encourage students to master two or more languages which means in this case for Indian students, to master Bahasa Melayu, English and Tamil. I think it’s an advantage for Malaysia to have students who master more languages,” he said.

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Also present were co-chairman of the conference V. Sivakumar, who is also Human Resource Minister and MIC deputy president Datuk Seri M. Saravanan.

Although the National Education Policy stipulates that Bahasa Melayu is the main medium of instruction in schools while also promoting the use of English to improve proficiency, Anwar said at the same time students should be encouraged to learn additional languages in secondary schools.

He said there was this old mindset among many Malaysians, including some Malays, that they should fear the promotion of other languages in secondary schools, particularly the Chinese language.

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“They seem to ignore the fact that mastering a second or third language is a necessity.

“Can you imagine the New Malaysia (in which) there is proficiency in the national language, with students mastering English and a significant number mastering Tamil, Chinese or Arabic languages (as well),” he added.

The prime minister said mastering multiple languages was Malaysia’s strength as only a few countries have that level of competency, adding that this should make Malaysians proud.

Anwar also announced a RM2 million allocation for Universiti Malaya’s Department of Indian Studies and another RM2 million for the Education Ministry to relook into the conditions for Tamil education in secondary schools.

These allocations, he said, were in honour of the 11th International Tamil Research Conference today.

Referring to Saravanan and Sivakumar working together as co-chairman of the conference, Anwar said he salutes the Indian community and leaders for taking the lead in building a new ‘Perpaduan Malaysia’, adding that this was also a message to Malay and Chinese leaders that the national vision must surpass all other differences and interests.

“Very rarely you have an MIC speaker (on stage) where the DAP and PKR guys are clapping. What’s wrong with us? Nothing wrong, we have matured as a nation,” he added.

He also said that as Prime Minister, he will continue to support the cause of Malaysians beyond race.

Anwar also used a line from a classic Tamil poem, ‘Yaathum oorey, yaavarum kelir’, which encapsulates a powerful message that resonates with the essence of a nation’s identity.

Jointly organised by the International Association of Tamil Research (IATR), Universiti Malaya and the OMS Foundation, the conference gathered more than 3,000 Tamil scholars and researchers from over 50 countries. — Bernama