Muhyiddin Yassin warns detractors against accusing the government of neglecting vernacular schools for their political interests.
Muhyiddin, who is also Education Minister, claimed Putrajaya had splashed RM1.04 billion to upkeep Tamil schools alone from 2010 to 2011, saying this disproved allegations that these schools received lesser government attention.
“So I hope some quarters do not underestimate or perceive our efforts to support these schools with cynicism.
“Please do not try and say that we are not doing enough,” he said when officiating at the new Sri Vivekananda primary school building here.
The ruling coalition is often accused by the opposition of negligence when it comes to vernacular education.
While the Chinese’s economic strength meant that the community can privately finance Chinese schools including independent ones and maintain quality, the same could not be said about the minority Indians.
Malaysian Indians are among the country’s poorest. This means private funding for Tamil schools is not readily available, which is why the majority of them depend on government aid.
Still a contentious issue
Surveys conducted nationwide showed many of these schools, mostly located in the plantations, are in poor conditions. Some have no electricity and water while some face serious structural problems.
Opposition lawmakers, sometimes backed by MIC leaders, claimed the government often refused to aid these schools due to its preference for the Malay-dominated national schools.
The ethnic majority Malays form the powerbase of the ruling coalition.
But critics claimed the recent cash handout for Tamil schools was only to shore up support amid speculation of snap polls.
With national polls tipped to be held by this year, Muhyiddin announced a RM6 million donation to Vivekananda’s three schools.
Vernacular education remains a contentious issue in a racially polarised Malaysia. It is also among the major factors driving the non-Malays away from backing the ruling coalition.
But supporters of national schools like influential former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad believe the existence of such schools hinders national unity while rights group said the minorities should be accorded the right to access education in their mother tongue.