Several Tamil Schools were started by individuals, labour unions, religious institution for Tamil children to study Tamil Language and Literature and sustain their Tamil culture and heritage in foreign land.
'The gift of learning is the integrity of the soul which brings the Conscience peace; the beauty of learning is the only true beauty.' Naladiyar, a Tamil classic.
Tamil Schools emerged soon after Tamils who had emigrated from South India could bring their wives and children to the settlement of Singapore.
Early Tamil Schools were set up in shophouses in Tanjong Pagar, in Serangoon area and Potong Pasir. These were in fact small classes of pupils taught by a single teacher. The pupils learnt Tamil Language and Literature, the Hindu epics, Tamil values and culture. Hindu pupils also participated in their festivals and even learnt the 'kolattam' dancing with two sticks.
Several Tamil Schools were established in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The later schools were located near the British bases in Seletar, Sembawang and Changi where Tamils found employment.
Records show that the first formal education for Tamil children was started with 12 pupils in the medium of Tamil in August 1834 in the Singapore Free School. Unfortunately the class was discontinued in 1835 because of the lack of suitable text books. However, the class was revived in 1873. The British government established 2 Anglo=Tamil Schools in 1878 and 1876 where Tamil pupils learnt English through the medium of Tamil.
One of the earliest schools to be started by Christian Missions was the St Francis Xavier Malabar School in 1859 by the Roman Catholic Mission for the education of Tamil youth. Christpoher Muruguppa Pillai School was opened in 1862. In 1887 the Methodist Church set up the Methodist Girls' School in Mount Sophia for Tamil girls and in 1913 another Tamil School was set up by the Methodist Mission.
Several private Tamil Schools were also started near Tamil workers' quarters. Those who belonged to the middle class sent their children to English Schools and attended Tamil classes after regular school hours. There were about20 Tamil Schools managed by the workers, trade unionists, Indian Association and religious institutions by the 20th century. One individual who worked as a hospital assistant, Arumugam, founded the Kalaimagal Tamil School in Yiu Chu Kang. This School was taken over some time in 1960s by the Ramakrishna Mission which managed both the Vivekananda Tamil School for boys and the Sarada Devi Tamil School for girl in Norris Road. Others included Neelaambigai, Vasugi, Thangamani, bharathidasa, Aravinda, Saraswati, Thandayuthapani, Valluvar, Avvaiyar, Nagamiah, Kamala Nehru Tamil Schools; these were distributed through-out the island where there were pockets of Tamils.
Before World War II, in Singapore, there were 4 Mission Tamil Schools, 14 private schools with an enrolment of about 1,000 pupils.
During the Japanese Occupation a few Tamil Schools managed by labour unions were used for propaganda by the Indian Independence Movement.
After the end of World War II Tamil Schools were revived. Tamil leaders like K. Saragapany, editor of the 'Tamil Murasu' (Tamil Daily) advocated Government support for Tamil Schools; government-aid was granted to 5 schools and St George's government Tamil School was established.
After 1955 greater recognition was give to all vernacular schools by the government; from 1959 equal treatment was accorded to all streams of education. Later Tamil parents preferred to send their children to English Schools and this move brought about the closure of all the Tamil medium schools in Singapore. The last to close was the Umar Pulavar Tamil School in Maxwell Road.