A tales of 2 countries

The following article from the Economist is posted as a comment by a reader and I thought it would be good to have it posted here. The story sounds familiar…Are we going that direction? Your guess is as good as mine:

From recent Economist magazine:

“FIFTY years ago Egypt looked oddly similar to another country. It had nearly the same population which was growing similarly fast, the same low income per person, the same proportion of relatively few city dwellers to lots of peasants working tiny plots, and similar life expectancy. ….. Both were run by quasi-dictators, complete with strict censorship and a pervasive secret police.”

“Egypt has made a lot of progress since then, particularly in recent years. But the other country, South Korea, has developed far faster. It has become a leading industrial power, a technological innovator and a vibrant democracy. Its people are now five times richer than Egypt’s (at purchasing-power parity against the dollar; at prevailing exchange rates the gap is far bigger), and on average live nearly ten years longer. The only measure on which South Korea lags behind is population growth. Whereas it had around 25m people in 1960 and now has double that number, Egypt’s population has nearly tripled.

“back in the 1960s Egypt’s ultimately wasteful experiments with nationalised industries and state planning were widely applauded. Plenty of Egyptians remain nostalgic for the years under President Gamal Abdel Nasser, when toilet paper and soap were scarce but the shiny new state-run factories providing jobs for life had not yet rusted and Egypt held its head high in regional affairs.”

“In South Korea the number of children born per woman was falling fast. Population growth was slowing, propelling the country into a happy phase known as the demographic transition, when the population pyramid begins to shrink at the base and widen in the middle, causing a bulge in the working-age population and a relative decline in the number of dependants.”

“South Korea and Egypt differ in another important respect. Fifty years ago, when South Korea’s adult literacy rate was already 71%, Egypt’s trailed at a dismal 25%. With 72% now, Egypt has only just passed South Korea’s level of 1960. That has had serious repercussions. According to a government-commissioned study, one reason why poverty has endured, despite Egypt’s rapid growth, is that too few people have the skills to exploit the opportunities available to them. Egyptian businessmen complain that a shortage of talented workers is one of the biggest obstacles to growth, second only to obstructive bureaucracy. Lawyers fume that it is not just too many laws and too few courts that tangle justice, but clueless judges and incompetent clerks.”

“It is not merely a question of literacy. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Egypt’s high rate of traffic accidents, for instance, may be largely due to ignorance of basic rules. High fatality rates in hospitals reflect poor standards of training, accountability and hygiene. A 2008 study of public awareness of AIDS revealed that only 1.8% of women among the poorest fifth of Egyptians, and less than 16% among the richest, knew the basic facts of the disease. Men were better informed, but even so less than 30% of the wealthiest class were aware, for example, that someone might be HIV-positive yet look healthy.”

“A government survey this year found that, apart from school textbooks, 88% of Egyptian households read no books, and three-quarters of families do not read any newspapers or magazines either. Of those who do read, 79% concentrate on religious subjects. Perhaps more encouragingly, the study found that nearly three-quarters of youths aged 15-29 have used the internet, and almost half of them have read books on the web. But again, religious fare was the favourite subject, followed by sport, and only distantly by scientific subjects. Other surveys have found far lower levels of internet use.”

Egypt’s failure to educate its people is not due to lack of effort. The country’s first modern schools opened in the early 19th century, far earlier than in most of the region. Free public primary education was introduced in the 1940s, but not widely available until after the 1952 revolution. In the following quarter-century university enrolment increased by more than ten times. The number of primary schools doubled, the number of students quadrupled and public spending on education swelled from 3% to 4% of GDP, a respectable figure by world standards.

“Yet something went wrong. Before the revolution Egypt’s schools and universities were few but their standard was excellent. The push to boost numbers came at the cost of a drastic fall in quality. Instead of following tested Western models, school textbooks were rewritten to emphasise “nationalist values”, scientific formulas and lists of facts rather than critical thinking. By the 1980s class sizes in government schools averaged more than 60. With student numbers in several big state universities up to six-digit figures, hundreds, even thousands of students were packed into lecture halls. Some of the better staff emigrated to Gulf countries, where salaries were many times higher.”

Those left behind began to exploit an obvious market opportunity, offering private lessons on the side. This practice became so pervasive that by 2005 some 64% of urban students and 54% of rural ones resorted to private crammers in addition to regular schooling, according to Egypt’s Human Development Report. A 2002 World Bank study found that private tuition accounted for fully 1.6% of GDP, and other studies suggest it devours a whopping 20% of household spending in families with school-age children. A big reason why families are willing to spend so much is that the education system relies heavily on national exams, not only for rating students but also for placing them in the various faculties of the state universities that still account for 95% of college enrolment.

“Since the 1960s these have been ranked by prestige, with medicine and engineering accepting only the highest-scoring students. The humanities, including law and education, are left with the dross. In effect, this creates a tyranny of exams largely based on rote learning. It forces unhappy students into disciplines they would not have chosen for themselves and produces a chronic imbalance between the skills of graduates and the needs of the marketplace. Egypt has a surplus of would-be lawyers, slapdash engineers and scarcely numerate accountants but few trained librarians, architects or actuaries.”


9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. klm
    Jul 26, 2010 @ 12:12:36

    Do a global replace of Egypt with Malaysia and it reads almost the same. These are two nations that purposely do not want to exploit its human capital. All they want is a factory worker class that can exploited by the politicians and elites.


  2. stevent
    Jul 26, 2010 @ 12:17:19

    The revolution that Egypt faced in the 50s was the overthrowing of a progressive Islamic to an uberconservative one. Hence, the population then begun produce more Islamic scholars than anything else. The founder of Egypt wanted a progressive Islam but the consequence was the exact opposite. Isn’t that a pity? Generations of talent which was trained up by the superb universities in Egypt were either ousted or became dumb. The cause and effect of bad management of government policies.

    Sadly we are facing similar causes and majority of our population are too selfish to lift one another up. In fact we have embrace the worst of democracy rather than learning the success of its system. It will be time before our strong ringgit policy comes home to roast. It’ll be faster than most realized and it’ll be too late by then as we see pensions and EPFs vanish into thin air. Hyperinflation is imminent. Too much pride in our people had blinded them from seeing such truths. A change in leadership will not solve such problems unless he is willing to make very unpopular choices, which of course are unfeasible in a democracy, but is needed to speed our recovery. Else we’ll have decades of pain and suffering.

    How long will the lost decades be, that is the unknown. Indonesia is combating corruption quite effectively after suffering from 15 years of negative growth. Cambodia and Myanmar will never recover even after half a century of negative growth. Vietnam would most probably be the star in Asean as it’s trying to erase its bad history of decision making while learning and attracting talent from the best of both worlds – American and China. Africa never had a good decade. Saudi Arabia – under the leadership of Price Abdullah- is trying to make its nation more progressive. Sadly this is not the case for the rest of the Arab nations. As for Malaysia, one can wonder how long will our bad decade be. All the nations above faced one similar problem. The elites had taken and will continue to take everything for themselves. They view the success of the country by how much they can continue to consume. Trust me, history has shown that the aristocracy can take much more than the population is able to fathom. On the positive note, South Korea managed to effectively change its ways and leadership in less than 5 years. Thus their progress shot up the roof exponentially.

    All in all, strong men have their uses, weak leaders have excuses!


  3. CYC
    Jul 26, 2010 @ 14:23:46

    In order to maintain a balance ecosystem, we need to have different plants to co-exist as they need other to grow healthily. Similarly, plants needs carbon dioxide which deemed toxic to human being while we need oxygen which is waste to plants. Therefore, diversification is the essence for a society to progress. what is actually lacking in the Arab world is simply over emphasis of religion and lack of human capital development. Is it a coincident or man made? I don’t know. Over emphasis leads to extremism/fanaticism while under emphasis leads to decay or deterioration. So, moderation is the key to achieve balance in life.

    Which type of leader we choose also play an important part in charting the future of our country. A leader is like doctor who will help in determining your health. A doctor is one who kills your ills by pills and kills you by his bills; a quack doctor is one who doesn’t kills your ills by his pills but still kills you by his bills. Whom should we choose then as u get killed either way ? Here lies the wisdom where a leader ideally suppose to leads and administers in accordance to majority wishes and not his whims and fancy. The question is how to put this into practice? You and me have to think and decide. Cheers !


  4. Dr Hsu
    Jul 27, 2010 @ 10:33:37


    there is an interesting site that you may want to read. The author listed 100 reasons ……..


    the chinese version is here:

    To win back the non’s votes, UMNO has to really listen to the ground and maybe these 100 reasons is a good start…


  5. BabaNyonya
    Jul 27, 2010 @ 10:49:48

    Dr Hsu,

    You might be interested in this article from the New York Times. Excerpts:

    ‘Indonesians’ Main Language Is Often English

    As English spreads, Indonesians fear for their language

    JAKARTA, Indonesia — Paulina Sugiarto’s three children played together at a mall here the other day, chattering not in Indonesia’s national language, but English. Their fluency often draws admiring questions from other Indonesian parents Ms. Sugiarto encounters in this city’s upscale malls.
    But the children’s ability in English obscured the fact that, though born and raised in Indonesia, they were struggling with the Indonesian language, known as Bahasa Indonesia. Their parents, who grew up speaking the Indonesian language but went to college in the United States and Australia, talk to their children in English. And the children attend a private school where English is the main language of instruction.
    “They know they’re Indonesian,” Ms. Sugiarto, 34, said. “They love Indonesia. They just can’t speak Bahasa Indonesia. It’s tragic.”
    Indonesia’s linguistic legacy is increasingly under threat as growing numbers of wealthy and upper-middle-class families shun public schools where Indonesian remains the main language but English is often taught poorly. They are turning, instead, to private schools that focus on English and devote little time, if any, to Indonesian.
    For some Indonesians, as mastery of English has become increasingly tied to social standing, Indonesian has been relegated to second-class status. In extreme cases, people take pride in speaking Indonesian poorly.
    In 1928, nationalists seeking independence from Dutch rule chose Indonesian, a form of Malay, as the language of civic unity. While a small percentage of educated Indonesians spoke Dutch, Indonesian became the preferred language of intellectuals.
    Each language had a social rank, said Arief Rachman, an education expert. “If you spoke Javanese, you were below,” he said, referring to the main language on the island of Java. “If you spoke Indonesian, you were a bit above. If you spoke Dutch, you were at the top.” …..

    With Indonesia’s democratization in the past decade, experts say, English became the new Dutch. Regulations were loosened, allowing Indonesian children to attend private schools that did not follow the national curriculum, but offered English. The more expensive ones, with tuition costing several thousand dollars a year, usually employ native speakers of English, said Elena Racho, vice chairwoman of the Association of National Plus Schools, an umbrella organization for private schools.
    Uchu Riza — who owns a private school that teaches both languages and also owns the local franchise of Kidzania, an amusement park where children can try out different professions — said some Indonesians were willing to sacrifice Indonesian for a language with perceived higher status.
    It is a sight often seen in this city’s malls on weekends: Indonesian parents addressing their children in sometimes halting English, followed by nannies using what English words they know.

    But Della Raymena Jovanka, 30, a mother of two preschoolers, has developed misgivings. Her son Fathiy, 4, attended an English play group and was enrolled in a kindergarten focusing on English; Ms. Jovanka allowed him to watch only English TV programs.
    Asked whether she would rather have her son become fluent in English or Indonesian, Ms. Jovanka said, “To be honest, English…..’

    So Indonesians are prepared to pay expensive private schools to ensure their children speak English. This is something that until the ’70s, every Malaysian could get for free. Unfortunately, the govt didn’t (and still doesn’t) appreciate the value of English. Now our non-English speaking neighbours are scrambling to improve their English, while Malaysia moves in the opposite direction.

    My old teachers all left after the switch to Bahasa. Since they couldn’t teach in the language, the government didn’t want them. How ironic. If they went to Indonesia today, they would be highly valued!

    Their generation of English speaking teachers is dying out: they have retired or emigrated. This is an asset that was needlessly thrown away.


  6. Dr Hsu
    Jul 27, 2010 @ 11:35:19

    the country is moving fast, growing fast, and at the rate it si doing, we will be left behind.

    We have good English speakers, in the form of DGs KSU and so on, but when the present batch retired, the ones taking over will be those struggling to coin an English phrase when in conversation. But there are many of those under 30 who again can speak good English, these are those who are educated overseas, but this group unfortunately is going to be the minority. To the majority, English might as well be Greek to them…and that is sad because it is the language of Science and technology…


  7. CYC
    Jul 27, 2010 @ 12:08:04

    Indonesians are enthusiastic in seeking knowledge.
    I met group of university students on my visit to Jogjakarta last year. They were on a field day where they looked out for foreigners in tourist spot to improve their English through conversation with them. I was impressed with their approach and initiative. Its simple and direct.

    Don’t be surprise that Indonesians are way ahead of us in terms of mannerism as well as driving attitude. They are much more patient and law abiding. Their political arena is much more open whereby they live telecast their presidential debate on TV. and the best part is u dun see emotional outburst from the candidates as well as the panel of commentator. Such a refreshing scene which would shame our idiotic politikus. Indonesia is not as backward as we used to visualise using our imagination. Of course, they still have along way to go. But at least they have started their journey and we lost our way.


  8. CYC
    Jul 27, 2010 @ 15:45:06

    A former US president said this “I predict future happiness for the Americans if they can prevent the govt from wasting the labours of the people under the pretense of taking care of them”

    Our govt practices exactly the same by incurring billions on unnecessary military arm deals to safeguard nothing, another billions on corridors to grow our industries supposedly, another billions on national service to instilled patriotism among the youth but end up as the biggest crony enrichment program, and list goes on……and on……. all in pretense of taking care of the citizens.

    The British leave us a good set of constitutions as guide of good governance but we screwed it upside down in the interest of certain elite group only. Hanfeizi teached Shihuangdi to govern using a set of rule of law (the birth of fa jia) but ended a victim of those mediocre rulers and ministers who only wish to consolidate their position. What a similarity and true enough history repeats at different intervals at different location. Only difference the Brits did get killed.


  9. CYC
    Jul 27, 2010 @ 16:08:17

    correction ” the Brits didn’t get killed”. sorry for the error.


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