There are around 2,000 children of Tamil origin in Australia who are now learning the language in as formal a way as one can get in a foreign land.
The story behind the effort is nearly 40 years old involving people from Tamil Nadu, Sri Lanka, and other parts of the Tamil speaking world.
It has now reached a stage, where people of Tamil origin in Australia are trying to create a chair in an Australian university.
At present the language is taught up to the school final stage with the recognition of a few provincial governments.
Recalling the journey the Tamils there went through to reach the stage, Anbu Jaya, a Tamil who has played an active part, says it is now 36 years since a group of Tamil families began the initiative to teach Tamil to their children after observing that the young ones started conversing in English at home as well.
He was here in the city to participate in the ‘Thayagam Kadantha Tamil’ conference, organised by the Center for Tamil Culture.
The families began the first school, ‘Balar Malar Tamil Palli’ in Sydney in 1977 when they met over weekends for get-togethers. As part of the meetings, they began teaching Tamil to children at homes were the events were organised.
After sometime, the families shifted the classes to a government school in Ashfield, Sydney, with permission from the New South Wales Government.
At present, the ‘Balar Malar Tamil Palli’ is spread over many Sydney suburbs like Seven Hills, Holsworthy, and Hornsby.
In 1987, Tamils from Sri Lanka who moved to Australia started a school, Tamil Kalvi Nilayam.
Now this school also has branches.
In all, there are at least 1,400 students in Tamils schools in Sydney.
In Melbourne, Victoria, the Sri Lankan Tamils started a Tamil school in 1979. Again, to meet the demands of the Tamil community, they started another Tamil school, Bharathi Tamil Palli, in 1994, says Mr. Jaya.
Now, with the spread of Tamils across Australia, the schools have also spread — there are schools in Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and also Darwin. Incidentally, the Adelaide school is celebrating its silver jubilee this year.
As the schools grew, there was a demand to frame a common syllabus.
The expertise of the Sri Lankan Tamil community helped in that many of those who had moved to Australia had only taught Tamil but also held senior positions in the Education Department.
The members met together and framed syllabus, step by step.
It started with the kindergarten to the sixth grade group and moved on to those who were in the school final.
The demand for a common syllabus was also due to the prodding of the Australian federal government, which sought a syllabus, board, and organisation to fund the Tamils’ effort, he says and adds that the fund came from the government’s policy of promoting multiculturalism.
In drafting the syllabus, however, the Tamils from India, and Sri Lanka, had to take note of the differences in Tamil they were used to. So, they agreed to provide equivalents for words wherever there was one. They also used the local cultural context to help the students relate to whatever they are learning.
“What is the point in having lessons from Tamil Nadu or Sri Lanka, where the social milieu is alien to the children. The lessons drafted for children in Australia will have the Australian milieu as the backdrop and include things or places the young ones are familiar with.”
But there are challenges as well. Though the number of schools have increased and parents are interested, there are those who have enrolled children in swimming and other classes that also fall on weekends, he says.
Nantri: the hindu