The magic of ignorance - English a false prophet

Anonby stan-sandy_anonby at
Sun Jan 23 07:58:53 UTC 2005


I wonder how much of this push for English comes from "an ignorant,
self-serving elite". Maybe the the intelligent, outward-looking masses are
pushing for English as well.


----- Original Message -----
From: "R. A. Stegemann" <moogoonghwa at>
To: <lgpolicy-list at>
Sent: Sunday, January 23, 2005 4:32 AM
Subject: The magic of ignorance - English a false prophet

> Hi everyone,
> After reading most of what everyone has posted on this subject I decided
> to do a little homework with regard to Malaysia and came up with results
> very similar to those that I found for Hong Kong. I will present a portion
> of them below. Certainly not all of them apply to Hong Kong.
> Malaysian exports in 2001 came to US$88.2 billion. In that same year
> Malaysia’s gross domestic product (GDP) was recorded at just over US$88
> billion. These are two facts which taken together tell us that Malaysia is
> exporting more than it is producing. Indeed, one might conclude from these
> that all Malaysians should be learning English just to survive. Now let us
> take a closer look.
> With only US$2 billion of these exports accounted for by Malaysia’s
> re-exports during this same period, we must assume that a large amount of
> Malaysia’s total export value involved the assembly of overseas built
> component parts. Evidence for this can be found in the high proportion of
> total import value accounted for by the importation  of intermediate
> goods -- a whopping 72.6%!  Further evidence for this can be observed by
> comparing Malaysian manufacturers as a proportion of total GDP with
> Malaysian manufacturers as a proportion of total exports. In 2001 domestic
> manufacturers accounted for just under 30% of gross domestic production.
> As a proportion of total exports they accounted for over 85%. These two
> figures differ by nearly a multiple of three!
> In order to obtain a realistic approximation of Malaysia's domestic
> economic activity devoted to trade we must eliminate from the total value
> of manufactured exports the value of imported intermediate goods that go
> into the production of manufactured exports. Subtracting from total
> manufactured exports the value of intermediate goods imported in 2001
> provides us with only a rough approximation, as not all manufactured
> output that employs imported intermediate goods is likely to be exported.
> Since we are not provided with exact figures, and other rough estimates
> will shift us in the opposite direction, let us not be deterred for want
> of precision.
> In 2001 total domestic exports amounted to US$86.3 billion -- namely, the
> total value of exports (US$88.2 billion) less re-exports (US$1.94
> billion). Of these, 85.4 percent were devoted to manufacturers. The total
> value of imports during this same period amounted to US$73. 9 billion. of
> which intermediate goods constituted 72.6 per cent. Thus, manufactured
> exports accounted for US$73.7 billion and intermediate goods imports
> accounted for approximately US$53.6 billion. Subtracting this latter
> figure from the former yields US$20.1. Adding this value to the value of
> nonmanufactured exports (US$ 12.6 billion) yields US$32.7 billion.
> Dividing  this value by Malaysia’s gross domestic product (US$88.0) in
> 2001 obtains that amount of Malaysia’s economy devoted to external
> trade -- namely, 37.2 percent.
> Though a substantial amount, 37.2 percent is a very far cry from what one
> observes when reviewing Malaysia’s external trade balances for the first
> time. One must also keep in mind that not all economic activity that goes
> into the production of goods destined for exports requires a direct
> interface with the outside. An assembly worker producing electronic
> equipment for export may not be required to know any English in order to
> perform his or her task well. On the other hand, many of those involved in
> overseas sales probably require very good command of English in order to
> consumate their orders. In fact, as a percentage of gross domestic product
> only 13.9 percent of total economic activity in Malaysia in 2001 was
> devoted to trade -- somewhat less than half that devoted to the production
> of manufactured goods and about twice that devoted to transport and
> communication. Under the assumption that all foreign trade in Malaysia
> were conducted in English, we are looking at an English language
> requirement of varying quality amounting to no more than 25 percent of all
> economic activity.
> This does not mean, of course, that English is not required in other areas
> of the economy as well, but as a proportion of Malaysia’s total economic
> activity these various other domains cannot be substantial.
> One should also keep in mind that in a developing economy much economic
> activity is never counted, as only that activity which is taxed ever gets
> recorded. Thus, the estimated 25 percent figure provided above is likely
> high. This point is easily highlighted when one considers that a full 38%
> of the Malaysian population lived in nonurban areas in 2000, but under 20%
> of all economic activity was devoted to agriculture, mining, and other
> rural human economic endeavor. Now let us turn to Malaysia’s demography.
> In 2001 there were 24 million people resident in Malaysia. Of these,
> somewhat under 10 milllion were considered a part of the Malaysian work
> force. In fact, only 39.7 percent of the total population of Malaysia was
> counted by the national government as employed in 2001. If we multiply
> this figure times our likely generous estimate of total domestic
> production devoted to external trade, we obtain a figure very close to 10
> percent.
> Turning to Malaysia's major ethnic groups we discover that in 2001 there
> were just about as many Malay speakers as there were Malaysians living in
> urban centers -- about 62 percent. Obviously not all of these lived in
> cities, else the recent concern of our fellow contributer, Saran Gill, and
> others would never have been expressed. Ethnic Chinese, South Asian, and
> non-Malaysians constituted the remaining 24.8, 7.4, and 5.6 percent of the
> population, respectively.
> According to Saran Gill's book entitled International Communication:
> English Language Challenges for Malaysia there were 370,898 Malaysians
> enrolled in institutions of higher education during the academic year
> 1999/2000. Together, these made up just over 1.5 percent of the total
> population and about 4 percent of Malaysia's total work force. Obviously,
> these students are employed far longer than they go to school, and over
> time they become a much larger portion of the total work force -- about 5
> times larger. Thus, when we discuss Malaysia's elite we are discussing
> about 7.5% of the total population and under 20% of Malaysia's actively
> employed. If we make the generous assumption that all of these employed
> graduates will eventually find work in the international sector, we obtain
> about 2 percent of the population that will require an excellent command
> of the English language. For this teeny minority 100 percent of the entire
> population should be compelled to study mathematics and science in
> English?
> On page 118 of Saran Gill's above mentioned work she wrote, "It must be
> remembered that the right of the people to acquire the English language
> does not mean the right of the English language over the people -- a
> pragmatic approach needs to be adopted to face the challenges of
> internationalization." I submit that Malaysians should be little concerned
> about "the right of the English language over the people", but rather
> about the right of an ignorant, self-serving elite to dictate what should
> be a matter of individual choice to the people.
> As an economist by training I have little notion about what most
> contributors on this board know about expected value. In brief, it is the
> present value of your discounted, lifetime opportunities weighted by your
> chances of obtaining each.
> When a child is born, already some of the opportunities available to other
> children, are not available to him. Moreover, as he grows older, it is not
> a matter of more doors becoming open; rather, it is a matter of an
> increasingly larger number of doors becoming closed. Now, it may not be
> possible for anyone to predict the Bill Gates of our future, but I should
> think that predicting one's chances of becoming a Malaysian bureaucrat or
> senior corporate financial officer become increasingly clear, as one
> advance from primary 1 to primary 6 and beyond. In Singapore the cut is
> commonly made after primary 3.
> Hamo

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