A group of schools and parents have challenged a 2006 order by the then DMK government that said only Tamil will be taught till Class 10. Based on their June 5 petition, the Madras High Court has sought a response from the state's AIADMK government.
Students in Chennai say not learning Hindi and other languages dents their job prospects both in India and abroad.
Anirudh, a class IX student who wants to study marine engineering, says he feels forced to learn Tamil. "If I want a job in north India, I need to know Hindi," the Kannada-speaking teen told NDTV.
His classmate, Ashwin, who is from Kerala, says, "I would love to learn French. I could get an opportunity to work abroad."
Even Tamil-speaking brothers Jishnu and Manu want to study Sanskrit and Hindi. Manu said, "We speak Tamil at home. It's boring to learn it in school too." His brother added, "Even in other countries they encourage students to learn as many languages as possible."
Schools that come under the Tamil Nadu board say they have lost several students to central board institutions that offer multiple languages. They suggest a middle path. "They can learn Tamil up to Class 5; it can be compulsory. After that, why not give them other options?" said Revathy Bonns, Principal, Madras Christian College Matriculation Higher Secondary School.
Tamil Nadu's main political rivals are, however, united in supporting Tamil teaching, which they have often linked to regional pride.
Sources in the ruling AIADMK said, "Only Tamil can be the language till class 10. Students can study other languages after that." The DMK's TKS Elangovan told NDTV, "Many eminent people studied only in Tamil medium schools, we have scientist Dr Abdul Kalaam."
In 2000, the Madras High Court struck down an attempt to make Tamil the medium of instruction in schools. This time too, the court may have the final word.