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Mentakab Tamil School's Legacy In Tamil Education

Last update: 22/05/2013
A special report by Ravindran Duraisamy

TEMERLOH (Bernama) -- The Mentakab Tamil School (SJKT Mentakab) which will be celebrating its diamond jubilee in 2014, best illustrates how dedicated teachers and headmasters can inspire both students and parents.

Like most Tamil schools in the country, the school started with humble beginnings back in 1939, in a wooden shack near the Mentakab railway station.

A senior citizen Thondarmamani M.Duraisamy recalled being told that in its infancy, the school had no distinct classrooms, but it catered for the children of colonial government staff, plantation and railway workers with a handful of teachers.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the school was the focal point for religious and political meetings for the small Tamil community scattered across the Temerloh district.

The ex-Temerloh Survey Department employee said in the late 1970s the school moved to its present location in Jalan Temerloh, where two modern three-storey block was later added in the 1980s.

Despite being located in a rural town and where the Tamil population has been dwindling, the school is the pride of the local Tamil population and Tamil educationists due to many of its sterling achievements.

A SCHOOL FAR CRY FROM THE REST

The Mentakab Tamil school is among the 37 Tamil schools in the state of Pahang and one of the nine in the Temerloh district. The school has 497 students, the highest for a Tamil school in Pahang.

While local community leaders strived to ensure the school has adequate infrastructure and physical necessities, teachers and headmasters did their absolute best to ensure their students achieved academic excellence.

In the school's recent history, the headmaster G.Mahalingam stood out from the rest as he strived with fortitude to uplift the education level of Indian students in the town of Mentakab.

Mahalingam, who has been passionate about teaching and empowering children went beyond his call of duty and his remarkable deeds are appreciated by the Tamils in Mentakab even today.

MAHALINGAM'S BAPTISM OF FIRE

When he joined the school in Jan 1982, the enrolment was 324 but when he retired in August 1996 the enrolment had soared to 786, thanks to the confidence instilled by Mahalingam on Tamil education.

Another feather in the cap for Mahalingam during his tenure was helping the Tamil students master Bahasa Melayu (BM), a feat that even received the recognition of the District Education Office.

Just how good were the students in the Malay language? The Tamil students won most of the BM quiz competitions at the district and state level and even progressed to the national level final round in Sarawak.

Mahalingam was honoured when the district education office invited him to share his approach with other teachers and the same approach was successfully emulated by other teachers in teaching English in the district.

From 1982 to 1986, the school achieved sterling results in UPSR and was among the best in the country in UPSR results and this earned him praises from MIC president Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu.

Mahalingam is now enjoying his retirement years in Mentakab recalled that he was invited to speak on ways to better UPSR results in SJKT at the national forum on Tamil schools at University Malaya.

Mahalingam and the teachers literally had instilled confidence in Tamil education and inspired the Indian community in Mentakab, resulting in the growth of the school's enrolment.

MAHALINGAM'S MAGIC IS NO MORE THAN DEDICATION

How did this headmaster achieve all this? It is an open secret that he would be at the school by 7.00 am to conduct special BM class for Standard 6 students. And parents were known to rush their kids to the school to ensure their children receive an early morning boost from Mahalingam.

He also organised free extra classes in the night with teachers who volunteered to help.

Current headmaster James Pichapillai, 54, recalled that Samy Vellu presented Mahalingam a Rolex watch at a function to honour outstanding Tamil schools and their headmasters.

Samy Vellu, said James, in fact mentioned that Tamil schools in the country should emulate SJKT Mentakab and Mahalingam's selfless deeds.

Sellamah Marriappan a former teacher in the school described Mahalingam as an outstanding headmaster who gave a lot of emphasis to educate Indian students.

She said Mahalingam allowed the classrooms to be used by any teacher who wanted to give extra classes to students and ex-students of the school.

THE TRADITION OF EXCELLENCE CONTINUES

While many Tamil schools were seen below par, the Mentakab Tamil school is continuing with the tradition of academic excellence.

In 2012 the Grade Point Average (GPS) for the school was 2.28, 2.29 (2011) and 2.42 (2010) with seven students obtaining 7A's for the 2012 UPSR, five in 2011 and nine in 2010.

James, 54, hand picked by the former Pahang's Director of Education to lead the school, continued the tradition of excellence and under his leadership the school gained the cluster school status in the year 2009 - a rare recognition for Tamil schools in the outskirts.

OTHERS WHO HAVE PROVIDED A HELPING HAND

Despite being a small school, its achievements and dedicated teachers have gained the attention of many parties including former Temerloh Member of Parliament Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah and former Mentakab assemblyman Chua Boon Seong.

According to James, Saifuddin was a regular visitor to the school and he got the ball rolling for the school's historic 75th anniversary celebration in 2014.

The local authorities too have been accommodating and had fulfilled many of the school's and parents' request, including the existence of a 60-meter-long supplementary road outside the school.

The school's PTA chairman Muniandy Munusamy noted that previously the school bus stop was located close to the main road and oncoming cars and lorries posed an imminent hazard. Now students wait for their busses at the supplementary road.

The story of SJKT Mentakab best illustrates how the collective efforts of the local Tamil community and a team of highly dedicated teachers and headmasters have made the difference and helped Tamil schools to thrive.

-- BERNAMA