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Think in mother tongue, practise in English: Medicos teach MBBS in Tamil via WhatsApp

Several months earlier, a voluntary group of senior medical professionals from various Tamil Nadu medical colleges started a similar initiative to teach some MBBS textbooks in Tamil, to help primarily first-year medical students who attended Tamil-medium schools.

Dr Subash Gandhi founded Tamilini Thunaivan WhatsApp group

On October 16, Union home minister Amit Shah launched an MBBS course in Hindi in Bhopal for the first time in the country, describing it as a “moment of renaissance and reconstruction” of the education sector.

Several months earlier, a voluntary group of senior medical professionals from various Tamil Nadu medical colleges started a similar initiative to teach some MBBS textbooks in Tamil, to help primarily first-year medical students who attended Tamil-medium schools.

Dr Subash Gandhi, a 41-year-old Tamil Nadu public health official, said the group “Tamilini Thunaivan” was now wrapping up the first batch of MBBS students this year after having completed 107 classes for about 350 first-year students from different parts of the state. “This is the time for practicals, and we will also be conducting tests for them before the next batch’s classes start,” said Gandhi, who founded the group on WhatsApp in light of the challenges he encountered as a student from a Tamil-medium school while starting his MBBS studies in Thanjavur Medical College in the late 1990s.

“Being from a Tamil-medium school, MBBS was difficult for me initially. Later, I earned a PG in public health from ICMR and published a paper in the British Medical Council journal. A key reason for us to launch this project was not to help the students get high marks but to help them get the idea and concept in medical education, help them continue to think in their mother tongue, which is very important, while presenting and practising in English is a necessity. So we help them understand basic terminologies, teach them to write in simple English, about how to present a case or explain a scenario,” he said.

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On whether their group was doing the groundwork for teaching the MBBS programme in Tamil, similar to the one in Hindi in Madhya Pradesh, Gandhi said: “No. Because creating an MBBS programme in Tamil or Hindi is not about translating those textbooks. It is also about whether an Indian language has enough scientific terminologies, words and usages for modern science, like Spanish or many European languages which have achieved that. The evolution of local languages to have meaningful modern scientific terminologies may be a gradual process facilitated by local collectives interested in research. I had looked at some of the Hindi MBBS textbooks used in Madhya Pradesh and found that the same English terminologies were used in Physiology text books though written in Hindi, and that many diagrams were marked in English itself.”

A slew of medical professionals interested in Tamil language and literature established a forum “Tamilini” three years ago, which launched the “Tamilini Thunaivan” for Tamil MBBS students earlier this year.

“Tamilini Thunaivan” uses WhatsApp and Google Meet to run the medical teaching project and follows the National Medical Council (NMC) guidelines. About 48 senior medical professors from several private and government medical colleges are taking classes for it. They include some of the state medical colleges’ department heads, top surgeons and Puducherry JIPMER doctors. Anatomy, physiology and biochemistry are the three departments, which are coordinated by three retired doctors.


The classes under this initiative are held on Google Meet on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. “We schedule classes between 6 pm and 7 pm to avoid disrupting students’ playtime and mess time. Even if they’re the brightest students from Tamil medium schools, they face an unusual challenge when they encounter English medicine and terminologies,” Dr. Gandhi said.

In Tamil language, artery is “thamani”, vein is “sirai” and nerve is “narambu”. Being one of the world’s most ancient languages, Tamil has a lot of terminologies to go with modern science literature. “There are medical terminologies, there are many text books translated into Tamil also, but it is also about a support system to help them fight many anxieties. We have five psychiatrists too including a senior professional from Dubai who help those with depression and anxieties,” said Dr G Thendral from Chennai, who studied with Dr Gandhi in Thanjavur Medical College.

With about 491 students enrolled for medical education in Tamil Nadu this year under 7.5% quota for government school students in MBBS, senior professors from “Tamilini Thunaivan” are on a mission to take their service to all of them as compared to 350 students in the current batch.


“Everything matters for a first-year MBBS student, from definition to idea of words like ‘anterior’ or ‘posterior’,” said Dr Thendral, who is closely involved with preparations and motivational classes for the new batch of students.

“First year students, for instance, find it very difficult to keep up in anatomy classes. They would be like regular people when it comes to a word like ‘stomach’ as against not so popular ‘abdomen’.When we first started taking cadaver dissection classes in college, we used to refer to the process of opening the skull, looking at the brain specimen and having the professor wash the brain as ‘brain washing’,” she said.

“Here we do this teaching project voluntarily because we know how important it is for students to understand concepts in the mother tongue. English is a necessity for communication and bridging the gap when we adhere to international protocols. But in the beginning stages of medical education, a teaching method in the student’s mother tongue is always beneficial,” Dr Thendral added.

First published on: 30-11-2022 at 04:45 IST
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