Children born today will be only 45% productive by 18th birthday – World Bank research

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Sub-Saharan Africa GDP to grow 3.3% this year, 3.5% in 2022

A child born in Ghana today will grow up to be an adult who is only 45 percent as productive as he/she would be under a benchmark of complete education and full health, according to the World Bank’s Human Capital Index (HCI) 2020 Update.

The HCI, an international metric that benchmarks key components of human capital across countries, measures the human capital that a child born today can expect to attain by his or her 18th birthday. The shortfall, the Bank says, is driven by students’ low academic achievement – which can be linked to a weak environment for child development and learning in the country. It also considers the quality of education services as an important input.

Ghana scored 44 percent in 2018 when the HCI was first launched as part of the Human Capital Project (HCP).

The HCI highlights how current health and education outcomes shape the productivity of the next generation of workers, by underscoring the importance of governments and societies investing in their citizens’ human capital.

Although over the past decade many countries, including Ghana, have made important progress in improving human capital, today the HCI said the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to reverse many of those gains and that urgent action is needed to protect hard-won advances in human capital – particularly among the poor and vulnerable.

“Designing the needed interventions, targetting them to achieve the highest effectiveness, and navigating difficult trade-offs in times of reduced fiscal space makes investing in better measurement of human capital more important than ever,” it added.

Globally, it said, a child born just before the advent of COVID-19 could expect to achieve on average just 56 percent of her potential productivity as a future worker. “COVID-19 struck at a time when the world was healthier and more educated than ever. Yet, data presented in this report reveal that substantial human-capital shortfalls and equity gaps existed before the crisis,” noted the study done under the theme ‘Human Capital in the Time of COVID-19’.

More worryingly, it said gaps in human capital remain deep – especially in low-income countries and those affected by violence, armed conflict, and institutional fragility. Expanded sex-disaggregated data also show that girls currently enjoy a slight edge over boys in human capital accumulation in most countries, reflecting in part a female biological advantage early in life.

It however indicated that women continue to be at a substantial disadvantage in many dimensions of human capital that are not captured by the HCI’s components, including participation in economic life.

The HCI was launched in 2018 as part of the Human Capital Project, a global effort to accelerate progress toward a world wherein all children can achieve their full potential. The 2020 report, launched last September, builds on momentum from the first edition in 2018 by using expanded data through March last year; and is expected to provide a snapshot of the state of human capital before COVID-19 and a baseline to track the pandemic’s impacts on human capital.

The Bank defines human capital as consisting of the knowledge, skills and health that people accumulate over their lives, emphasising that: “People’s health and education have undeniable intrinsic value, and human capital also enables people to realise their potential as productive members of society. More human capital is associated with higher earnings for people, higher income for countries, and stronger cohesion in societies. It is a central driver of sustainable growth and poverty reduction”.

Way forward

Although the study acknowledged that today hard-won human capital gains in many countries are at risk, it said countries can do more than just work to recover the lost ground through ambitious, evidence-driven policy measures in health, education and social protection that can pave the way for today’s children to surpass the human-capital achievements and quality of life in generations that preceded them.

To protect and extend earlier gains, it said, policymakers also need to expand health service coverage and quality among marginalised communities, boost learning outcomes together with school enrolments, and support vulnerable families with social protection measures adapted to the scale of the COVID-19 crisis.

It added that: “Informed by rigorous measurement, bold policies can drive a resilient recovery from the pandemic and open a future in which rising generations will be able to develop their full potential and use it to tackle the vast challenges that still lie ahead for countries and the world: from ending poverty to preventing armed conflict to controlling climate change.

“COVID-19 has underscored the shared vulnerability and common responsibility which today link all nations. Fully realising the creative promise embodied in each child has never been more important.”

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