PETALING JAYA: Malaysia needs to maintain a population that has a high proficiency in English to remain competitive because the country is highly reliant on international trade, a leading local business leader said.
Royal Selangor International Sdn Bhd chairman Tan Sri Yong Poh Kon said the nature of Malaysia’s economic structure being dependent on international trade requires the labour force, particularly graduates, to have a strong command of English language.
“As highlighted in the World Bank’s World Development Indicators in 2013, Malaysia is ranked 14th in the world in terms of trade as a share of the national gross domestic product.
“Good grasp of English among the Malaysian populace will definitely be the X-factor that improves the country’s competitiveness as we can communicate with the rest of the world easily,” said Yong at the Star Media Group’s Power Talks Business Series held on Saturday.
Yong, who is known for playing a pivotal role in bringing Royal Selangor to a global brand name with exports to more than 20 countries, said he could relate to the importance of the English language because of his experience in expanding the company’s reach internationally.
Royal Selangor International is a company that started in 1885 and its pewter products are found at high-end luxury outlets as well as medium-sized shops in established markets such as the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Australia and some parts of Europe.
Responding to a question on how countries such as India and China managed to become economic juggernauts despite the general population’s lack in English language proficiency, Yong said this was possibly due to the large domestic economy that the countries possessed to the extent they do not depend on the external economy.
“However, Malaysia has a limited domestic market. For us to grow further, we need to tap into the international markets.
“English language proficiency among Malaysians will put us on the right trajectory in penetrating global markets,” Yong said, adding that English language is the backbone of the economy.
He stressed that while more proactive efforts ought to be taken to improve the state of English proficiency among Malaysians, this does not mean that Bahasa Melayu, which is the national language, will be relegated to a lesser important position.
Yong, who was part of the National Economic Council, was instrumental in introducing the Dual Language Programme (DLP) for Malaysian schools.
“The DLP seeks to increase the exposure time of English education in classroom and is introduced so that pupils can be educated according to the wishes of their parents.
“The new programme is optional and can only be implemented in schools that have met the prerequisites set by the Education Ministry,” he said.
During the 90-minute session, Yong also shared his thoughts and personal experiences in participating in the country’s Task Force to Facilitate Business (Pemudah) under the Prime Minister’s Office as well as the National Economic Council.
Yong played a crucial role in bridging the gap between the public and private sector during his stint as the co-chair of Pemudah.
The task force, which was formed in early 2007 to foster greater public-private collaboration, introduced a slew of measures to improve the efficiency of the Government’s services and to enhance the country’s competitiveness.
As a result, Malaysia marked a steady improvement in its ranking in the World Bank’s Doing Business report. Malaysia was ranked 6th in the world in 2014 compared to its 23rd rank in 2010.
Going forward, Yong said private sector players must also strive to move up the value chain, instead of focusing on the traditional assembly and production alone.
“The private sector must be willing to embrace technology and needs to emphasise on research and development. Together with the empowerment of its human capital, a company will be able to move up the value chain,” he said.
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