Tamil Language Education

Dr HUGH McDERMOTT ( Prospect ) ( 12:32 ): I am proud to represent the electorate of Prospect, which has one of the highest concentrations of Tamil language speakers in Australia. Tamil is one of the world's oldest languages, having been spoken as a primary language for more than 2,800 years. Its longevity has allowed for the preservation of art and literature for millennia. It is the oldest of the Dravidian languages, which are widely spoken in southern India. The Tamil language plays an essential role in the Tamil diaspora, fostering a unified identity and maintaining Tamil culture. The Tamil language has been found inscribed on artefacts found as far away as Egypt and common Tamil words are found even within Indigenous languages in Australia.

Tamil is widely spoken, not only in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka but across the world. Large Tamil‑speaking populations exist in Malaysia, Singapore, Mauritius, Fiji, South Africa and, of course, Australia. Today some 70 million people speak Tamil. Tamil is a thriving language in Australia, with more than 52,000 people who speak Tamil at home.

The Tamil language will become increasingly important for trade and commerce between Australia, Sri Lanka, and India. The potential economic benefit deriving from Tamil language education is significant. Tamil Nadu has a rapidly growing economy, and the Tamil language will become increasingly important to international trade and investment. The State, Territory and Commonwealth governments should provide more support for young Australians to be able to learn Tamil and to experience the vibrant Tamil culture and traditions.

In 2001, the first Higher School Certificate [HSC] examination for Tamil was made available by the Carr Labor Government. Since then, studying Tamil has remained an option, and the course is aimed at students who already have an advanced understanding of the language. Under current New South Wales Government arrangements, there has been no increase in investment in Tamil language education. Furthermore, HSC Tamil is studied nearly exclusively by correspondence, with the support of community-run organisations. This means that students must often study Tamil in addition to an already stressful study load because the language is almost non‑existent in mainstream schools. Further, it means that Tamil language students are deprived of the resources that are available to language classes in mainstream schools. It means also that students without an ethnic Tamil background may miss out on the opportunity to learn the Tamil language because they may lack family and community connections.

Tamil community-run organisations do an amazing job given their limited resources. Across Sydney, there are approximately 1,000 students in Tamil community language schools. The Wentworthville Tamil Study Centre in the electorate of Prospect hosts more than 650 students at Girraween Public School each Saturday. They rely on passionate volunteers who are looking to preserve knowledge of their ancient language. Recently, I was approached by the Consortium of Tamil Associations NSW to support its call to have the Tamil language introduced into the national curriculum. It is one of a number of fantastic Tamil community organisations that strive to achieve a better society for the Tamil people. Many representatives of Tamil organisations from across the State are present in the gallery to support this important campaign. I thank them for taking the time to visit the Parliament of New South Wales today.

I and my parliamentary Labor colleagues are committed to supporting the inclusion of the Tamil language in the national curriculum. Last week I wrote to the Federal Minister for Education and Training, Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham, asking him to include Tamil in the curriculum. This week I have written to the shadow Minister for Education, Tanya Plibersek, MP, urging her to support this campaign. I also urge the Government to increase the funding and resources available for Tamil language education in New South Wales, not only in our schools but also in Tamil community organisations. The famous scholar and poet Father Constanzo Beschi proudly said in Tamil, "Naan oru thamil manavan", which means, "I am a Tamil student." Such is the greatness of this language. Let us provide the opportunity for our children to learn this classical language, which promotes universal brotherhood.

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