The brainchild of visionary thinker Swami Vivekananda, the humble beginnings of The Vivekananda Ashrama Kuala Lumpur go back over 100 years, to the opening of The Vivekananda Tamil School Brickfields in 1914. Its aim was to bring the benefits of education to as many children as possible, in the firm belief that education is a nation’s most critical investment.
Over the years, despite many changes and challenges, the Ashrama has grown from strength to strength, adapting and evolving to meet current needs while preserving the best of the past.
Today, the Ashrama is run by an elected Management Committee; it is a registered company which owns and manages the Ashrama building, the land on which it is located, and four schools.
With education as its core vision and mission, the Vivekananda Kuala Lumpur Board of Trustees manages four schools with a collective population of 2,500 students in addition to the Ashrama building itself:
- SRK (T) Vivekananda, Brickfields
- SMK Vivekananda, Brickfields
- SRK (T) Vivekananda, Petaling Jaya
- SRK (T) Thamboosamy Pillay, Sentul
All four schools are ‘Sekolah Bantuan Modal’ with the Ministry of Education paying teachers’ salaries with some funding allocated for student and administration costs while infrastructure, maintenance and other expenses are borne by the Ashrama. Regular fund-raising initiatives are organised, with ad-hoc support from the Ministry of Education, corporate sponsors and private individuals; these funds support programmes such as extra tuition, coaching and mentoring programmes, transportation and nutrition programmes for students in need, books, uniforms, teacher training courses and music classes.
Well-respected for his views on education, Swami Vivekananda gained global recognition with a keynote address at the World Parliament of Religions in 1893, where he called for “education as a life-long process towards the fullest development of human personality, self-discovery, self-perfection, self-awareness and self-manifestation”.
A firm believer that education is the key to reducing poverty, eliminating gender inequality and a means to fostering peace, his philosophy forms the basis for the Ashrama’s vision, mission and existence.
The Tamil community in Brickfields set up a Reading Room as a place to congregate for recreation. Their shared admiration for Swami Vivekenanda’s teachings and philosophy grew into a realisation that education was a necessity for the children in the growing Indian population.
Vivekananda Primary Tamil School Brickfields opened its doors to 13 students and one teacher, with Mr AH do R Fonseca as Manager. By the end of 1915, the school had 94 students and 4 teachers. All expenses were borne solely from member subscriptions and donations from the public. Each student paid $1 per month for infant (kindergarten) classes and $1.50 for higher classes of Standard 1 to Standard 4; students unable to afford the fee were accepted without the need to pay and received the necessary books free.
The Ashrama, initially connected to the Ramakrishna Math in Belur, India, became independent by the 1930s.
Over 20 years, with the exception of the Second World War from 1941-1945, the Vivekananda Primary Tamil School Brickfields grew in size and stature, with many achievements as well as its Silver Jubilee in 1935:
- New classrooms and a kindergarten in 1931
- English language lessons for students in Primary 3 onwards and afternoon lessons for students of English schools wishing to learn Tamil
- Plans for new building approved by the Education Department, pending funds
- Academic achievements – student Ms Ratnasabapathy Sornambigai was 1st in Selangor and 3rd in Malaya with top marks in Mathematics, Language and Geography in government examinations for Standard VII
- Graduating students returned to teach
By 1950, the school had 409 students with 13 teachers.
The 1950s saw many developments and rapid growth in the student population. Highlights include:
- Construction of the Vivekananda Block in 1952; the opening ceremony was officiated by Yang Teramat Mulia Raja Muda Selangor
- Construction of the Ramakrishna Block in 1953
- Golden Jubilee Celebration in 1954 marked by inter-religious forum with representatives Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism
- Merdeka Exhibition welcomes 40,000 visitors including YM Sir Raja Uda, Speaker of the Council and YM Lady Raja Uda and YB Datuk Abdul Razak, Minister of Education
- Vivekanada Primary Tamil School Petaling Jaya established in 1958 to serve children living in nearby rubber estates. Ashrama Committee members convinced parents to value education, encouraged enrolment with transportation and meals as an incentive. Launched with only 35 students and one teacher, by mid-2000, the student population had grown to 2,100 students.
- Opening of Vivekananda Secondary Tamil School Brickfields is officiated by Prime Minister YAB Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj on 13 September 1958.
- The same year, the Kindergarten section acquires a new building and special classes in Tamil commence for students enrolled in L.C.E. (Form III), N.C.E. (Form IV) and School Certificate examinations.
- In a Mass Drill on the 1st Anniversary of Merdeka, Vivekananda Tamil School Brickfields was the only School that was invited to participate in the rally
The Vivekananda Secondary Tamil School Brickfields was a model institution, guided by two principles:
- The good for the pupil
- The good for the nation
With these guiding principles, there would be no external, personal, sectarian or communal considerations to influence the Ashrama to veer from this path.
The Ashrama continued to expand in order to serve the growing student population:
- Vivekananda Tamil Primary School Petaling Jaya acquires 3 acres of land in Jalan Templer in 1960; opening ceremony is officiated by Minister of Education YB Encik Abdul Rahman b. Haji Talib.
The Education Act 1962 initiated a system of national education, with a greater focus on Malaya and the eventual objective of making Bahasa Melayu the main medium of instruction. The Act provided for vernacular (national-type) schools at primary level, and Malay (national schools) and English schools at the secondary level. All schools would be government-funded and required to use a common national curriculum.
- Vivekananda Tamil Secondary School ( the first Tamil Secondary School in Malaya) renamed Vivekananda Secondary English School Brickfields with 60 students from Forms One to Three; the English School (held in the afternoon) later closed due to poor attendance.
- Hostel is set up for tertiary students from rural areas and other towns, providing accommodation and vegetarian meals for a nominal fee.
Hostel residents experienced personal growth through community work, culture and religious activities that were regularly organised at the Ashrama. Many went on to become professionals who continued to support the Ashrama’s efforts in various ways.
- Vivekananda Secondary Tamil School Brickfields welcomes its first female Headmaster, in 1962
- A new block of classrooms, Vivekananda Block, is completed in 1963
- The Ashrama took over the management of Thamboosamy Pillay Tamil School Sentul in 1964, saving the school from closure. First opened in 1906, it is one of Malaysia’s oldest Tamil schools. A new building is constructed for its 200 students and 6 teachers.
- A check presented by Minister of Education YB Encik Mohd Khir Johari, together with self-raised funds, enables the construction of science labs and a new building. The planned 3-story Vipulananda Block in Brickfields is completed in 1966.
- In 1967, boarding facilities ceased and existing infrastructure reserved for students in need; a free meal programme is established to serve 550 students.
- To facilitate secondary education up to Form 5 at Vivekananda Secondary School, land was acquired adjacent to the school, and the Ministry of Education provided funding for six more classrooms, two science labs, and an Industrial Arts Block in 1977.
- By 1979 The Vivekananda Primary Tamil School Petaling Jaya had 906 students while the Primary Tamil School in Brickfields had 292 students and Thamboosamy Pillay School Sentul had 160 students.
- A new 4-story block at Vivekananda Secondary School is completed in 1980.
- Efforts made to ease the transition from English to Malay as the medium of instruction, with the first batch of students from Vivekananda Secondary School Brickfields sitting for SPM in 1981.
- Construction of new block at Vivekananda Secondary School Brickfields begins in 1985; it is acknowledged as an A-Grade school in 1987.
- Extra-curricular activities raise the school profile, including a 60-member music band, sponsored by Petaling Jaya State Assemblyman YB Mr Soong Siew Hoong, and a school band set up in 1983 by Mr Yap Fatt.
- Thamboosamy Pillay Tamil School Sentul celebrates its 75-year Anniversary under the patronage of YB Dato Seri S Samy Vellu, the Minister of Telecommunications.
- Kindergarten population grows to 92 students, with five teachers.
- New classes, clubs and programmes initiated, including special classes in English, Bahasa Malaysia and Mathematics; Thevaram classes; Boy Scouts, Girl Guides and Red Crescent Society; free meals for deserving students; and free books, uniform and bus fare for underprivileged students.
- Vivekananda Tamil School Brickfields celebrates its 75th Anniversary in 1991 under the patronage of YB Dato Seri Annuar Ibrahim, Minister of Education
- New challenges faced as a new educational curriculum is implemented and a decline in academic performance among Tamil school students is noted, prompting special preparation classes for UPSR, residential classes and study camps during the school holidays, night classes three times weekly and a seminar held for teachers, headmasters and senior assistants to discuss further efforts.
- New 3-storey building constructed for Vivekananda Tamil School Petaling Jaya in 1993, with the help of a grant from Ministry of Education.
- By 1999, efforts bear fruit and academic performance across all schools shows improvement.
- Collectively, the Vivekananda Schools score the highest number of passes in the UPSR examinations in 2002
- New 3-storey building acquired for Vivekananda Tamil School Brickfields in 2003, using funds from a government grant as well as private and corporate donations. The new structure includes state-of-the-art computer lab and an air-conditioned hall with acoustics and lighting.
- SP Setia Foundation awards Vivekananda Tamil School Brickfields “Best Tamil School” in 2005
- Music classes begin, with instruments and teachers from the Indian High Commission
- Funds from Ministry of Education allocated for 3-storey building at Vivekananda Tamil School Petaling Jaya and 2-storey building for Thamboosamy Pillay Tamil School Sentul, completed in 2011.
- Remedial classes initiated for children with learning disabilities; “Empowering Adult Support Children” programme introduced to help children from economically challenged homes, with a psychologist to train parents whose children had learning difficulties.
- ‘Program Viveka Academia’ initiated in 2012, courtesy of the Malaysian Community & Education Foundation (MCEF), to fund extra classes for students sitting for examinations in Standard 6, Form 3 and Form 5 as well as teachers’ allowance for five years.
- In 2012, following an RM6 million donation from the Ministry of Education, Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister YAB Tan Sri Dato’ Muhyiddin b Hj Mohd Yasin officiate the opening ceremony of the new building of VivekanandaTamil School Petaling Jaya.
- Form 6 Arts classes begin in March 2014 with 13 students, making VivekanandaTamil School Brickfields/Petaling Jaya one of the few schools where students can enrol in Kindergarten and complete their pre-university studies within the same campus.
- Vivekanada Tamil School Brickfields reaches its 100-year anniversary and is made a Tamil Trust School, the second in the country, thanks to an anonymous donation of RM3 million to Yayasan Amir.
- Further plans for refurbishment placed on hold while future of the Ashrama is considered.