image Jeyakumaran
Student at Umar Pulavar Tamil High School circa. 1960s

Tamil textbooks were not available for the various subjects. What’s amazing to me was we studied Biology in Tamil. One of my teachers would translate the lesson from English to Tamil. She will write on a paper in Tamil from an English book. While writing, she will pass me the foolscap paper and I had to read to the class what was written, and the other students would take notes from it. We worked very hard. My Geography teacher, Mr Veerasamy, will translate the lesson from English to Tamil. When they’re out of time, they will approach me and tell me to read out to the class and they would take notes of it. I felt like a teacher while doing this. We will use a stencil paper on the typewriter, to copy the assignments. The teachers would struggle a lot to do all this. My friends and I will help them. This inspired me to become a teacher too. Even after being in the army for 6 years, I was still inspired to become a teacher.
image Sivasamy s/o Peraman
Student at Umar Pulavar Tamil High School circa. 1960s

Umar Pulavar School was started by Kadayanallur Muslim League (SKML) in Singapore. In the beginning, it was a primary school, but later it became a secondary school. The person who named this school was considered to be the father of the Tamil language in Singapore. He was Mr Sinnappan. SKML and the school started at the same time. It was first located at Tanjong Pagar area, the school was at Tras Street after Kee Seng Street.
image Maideen Nagore
Co-founder of Singapore Kadayanallur Muslim League (SKML) circa. 1941

We had two teachers teaching. Sarojini teaches in the morning, and in the afternoon, Mary Devi was teaching. After the Tamil school ended, we had a teacher called Fernandez who was working as a clerk in a company who taught English. We also had a Chinese teacher. English was taught from 6 pm to 8 pm, while Chinese was being taught from 8 pm till 9:30 pm. We also taught the older generation Tamil for free. While doing this, we had some issues with the government as there wasn’t enough electricity at Tanjong Pagar. We were finding different locations and places and finally, we had a location at Maxwell Road. We got the location in 1949 and completed the school building in 1950. When we got the location, we built the school with just $14,000. After building it, the school became well established with just one person in control of the school.
Dear Tanjong Pagar,

Umar Pulavar Tamil School holds endless memories for me. Despite its dissolution in 1982, there is little doubt as to how much the school, organisation and community have done for the future of Singaporean Tamil Muslims. To this day our school name and presence lingers on as Umar Pulavar Tamil Language Centre at Beatty Road continues to provide Tamil Language services to many.

Teaching then had its challenges. At that time, Singapore did not produce any textbooks in Tamil so we had to acquire Tamil literature from India and translate them from Tamil to English. Maths and Science was also taught in Tamil so that students could immerse themselves in the language.

In the early days, Umar Pulavar Tamil School was situated within a shophouse at Tanjong Pagar. There wasn’t any furniture and the electricity was poor but the children were still eager to learn. Things improved when we shifted to Maxwell and we had noticeboards and writing boards in the classrooms as well as proper tables, chairs and fans. We also had a small staff room, science lab, library and canteen. Our students were very sweet-natured. Sometimes, they would ask me if I wanted coffee or something to eat, and they would bring it to me during recess.

I vividly remember my interactions with parents during the graduation ceremony. They were proud of their children, boys and girls equally, who were graduating proficiently bilingual in English and Tamil. Many of our students have gone on to become teachers themselves, and accountants and lawyers.

I am so proud of how far we have come. We prepared our students to embrace Singapore as a multi-cultural society but we also taught them to reconnect to their roots, culture and most importantly, mother tongue.


Love,

Mr Flutterby
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