MALAYSIA Tanah Tumpah Darahku


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

English mastery crucial for Vision 2020 : AmBank's Azman

KUALA LUMPUR (Malaysian Insider) - AmBank Group chairman Tan Sri Datuk Azman Hashim has stressed the importance of English proficiency to achieve the Vision 2020 goal of becoming a high-income nation.

Azman’s call follows demands by the English-language lobby group PAGE who has urged the private sector to push for the reinstatement of the policy to teach science and mathematics in English, saying that it is crucial for the success of the government’s Economic Transformation Programme (ETP).

“We need to raise the competency in the English language,” said Azman in a CEO Forum organised by the Perdana Leadership Foundation today.

“Policy reversals have produced a generation of graduates who lack proficiency in English,” he said.

“While Bahasa Malaysia is the national language, we cannot deny the importance of English. The world of knowledge is where English is dominant,” added Azman.

Azman warned that failure to master the lingua franca was akin to “handicapping” the country in its bid to increase innovation and competitiveness.

“We are handicapping ourselves to be innovative and competitive,” said the Perdana Leadership Foundation’s chairman of the board of trustees.

The decision to abolish the policy of the teaching of science and mathematics in English — popularly referred to by its Malay acronym, PPSMI — last year was widely seen as a political move to appease Malay language nationalists.

Since then, many have expressed concern that it would cause the standard of English in the country to further deteriorate and hurt the country’s competitiveness.

“Not being proficient (in English) means there is a barrier blocking access to information and ideas,” said Azman, adding that such access was critical for Malaysia’s transformation to a knowledge-based economy.

He pointed out that creativity and innovation required a vigorous debate and exchange of ideas, which were usually conducted in English.

“You need English to understand and simplify new ideas. Creativity and innovation also needs an exchange of ideas, dialogue, and debate,” he said.

Besides the challenge of the country’s overall lack of proficiency in English, Azman also cited racial and religious politics as factors that could drive investors away.

“When investors see me, their first question is not how is your economic outlook, but what is the prospect of political stability and racial and religious harmony,” he said.

“Some use politicisation of race and religion as game cards to win political favour,” said the banker.

Foreign direct investment in the country had plunged by a record 81 per cent last year.

Meanwhile, Azman’s views on the necessity of innovation to become a high-income nation were echoed by Khazanah Research and Investment Strategy executive director Dr Nungsari Ahmad Radhi.

“To grow the competitiveness of the economy, we need to grow our tradable sectors, (which) will require creativity and innovation,” said Nungsari.

“Are we ready to be more critical and to question the status quo? If we are not critical people, how are we going to be creative in politics and business?” he asked.

Multimedia Development Corporation CEO Datuk Mohd Badlisham Ghazali pointed out that there was a correlation between a country’s competitiveness in the information and communication technologies (ICT) and the investment it receives in the sector.

“Malaysia invests a low percentage of its GDP (gross domestic product) relative to its innovation industries compared to other countries,” said Badlisham.

Like his peers, Maybank Investment Bank Berhad CEO Tengku Zafrul Tengku Aziz also highlighted innovation as the key to achieve an annual growth of six per cent in the economy — critical to the government’s aim of transforming the Malaysia into a developed nation come 2020.

“We need to grow six per cent every year. But the problem is innovation,” said Tengku Zafrul.

“We need to migrate from a resource-based to an innovative economy,” he added.

Malaysia dropped two spots in the World Economic Forum (WEF) competitiveness index this year and ranked 26 out of 132 countries.

The ranking of educational institutions in Malaysia has also dived throughout the past years to the point of dropping out of the top 200 universities in the QS World University Rankings this year.

The ETP is one of the Najib administration’s initiatives aimed at roughly tripling gross national income in the next 10 years and is based on a slew of private sector-driven projects that would require private funds to the tune of US$266 billion (RM822 billion).

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