A child born in Bangladesh today can expect to achieve only 46% of the productivity potential of a fully educated adult in optimal health, says a World Bank report. The report also says that the country has lost its future productivity by 2% over the last two years.
The latest update of the World Bank's Human Capital Index (HCI) 2020 reveals that Bangladesh's potential future productivity is lower than not only the global average but also the South Asian region and the lower middle-income countries' average.
The index puts the global average of a child's potential productivity as a future worker at 56%, while the South Asian average is about 48%. Meanwhile, for a child born in a high-income country, this figure would be 70%.
The index used health and education data collected from 174 countries up to March this year, before the Covid-19 struck in full force in many regions, providing a pre-pandemic baseline on the health and education of children.
The pandemic dealt a fresh blow to education and health across the globe, keeping about 50 million pupils indoors since March and exposing the fragile state of the health sector in Bangladesh.
The prolonged closure of schools is feared to raise drop-out, and child labour and child marriage rates, while universities might face session jam, increasing cost and duration of higher studies.
The Covid-19 outbreak threatens hard-won gains in health and education over the past decade, especially in the poorest countries, the new analysis of the World Bank finds, calling for more investments in human capital – knowledge, skills, and health.
These are key to unlocking a child's potential and improving economic growth in every country, the development bank said in the report released on September 16.
Bangladesh's future productivity potential was 48% in 2018 index – first of its kind launched by the World Bank.
The country ranked 123rd among 174 countries in the latest edition of the report, while in 2018 its position was 106th among 157 countries.
The index captured key stages of a child's trajectory from birth to adulthood, on such critical metrics as child survival (birth to age 5), expected years of primary and secondary education adjusted for quality, child stunting, and adult survival rates.
Education deteriorates, health remains stagnant
According to the latest HCI update, the Covid-19 pandemic has created concern for Bangladesh's health and education system. The education sector's performance was declining without the impact of the pandemic and the country's health sector did not see any improvement compared to the previous edition of the HCI.
The expected years of schooling for a child in the country dropped by 0.84 years to 10.2 years this year from 11 years in 2018. The pandemic can add another six months to this average to all levels of learners.
In addition, the learning and education quality at schools has remained stagnant. As a result, children's actually expected learning years at school have dropped to 6 years compared to 6.5 years in the previous editions.
Meanwhile, the health sector has not witnessed much improvement either. On average, 87% of 15-year-old youths today would survive until their 60 years of age. The proportion was the same two years ago.
Moreover, the country is stuck at 97% in newborn survival until the age of 5, indicating child mortality, infant mortality, and neonatal mortality's existence in the country.
However, a narrow improvement was seen in the case of healthy growth (not stunted). Previously, 36 out of 100 children might experience impaired growth and development, but the rate has currently dropped to 31.
Prof Dr Rashid-E-Mahbub, former vice chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University and president of Right to Health Movement, told The Business Standard that although the child mortality rate has decreased in the country, malnutrition remains a big problem.
"If malnutrition is not eliminated, productivity potential will not increase.
"There is a link between good health and increased productivity. That is why the government needs to make more investment in this sector," he argued.
The Covid-19 pandemic will worsen the malnutrition problem in the country, he warned, urging the government to make all-out efforts to solve this problem now.
Human capital is higher among girls than boys
Basically, human capital outcomes vary for girls and boys. In Bangladesh, the human capital potential for girls is slightly higher (48%) than that for boys (45%).
This pattern can be observed across all HCI components for the country.
Bangladesh bottom third in South Asia
Children born in Sri Lanka today would be the most productive among South Asian countries, reaching around 60% of their full potential.
It is followed by Nepal (50%), India (49%), and Bhutan (48%).
Bangladesh is only ahead of Pakistan (41%) and Afghanistan (40%).
Singapore topped the index with 88% of human capital potential, as the country was highly rated for its universal healthcare system, world-class education system and life expectancy figures, followed by Hong Kong (81%).
Moreover, Japan, South Korea, Canada, Finland, Macao and Sweden would likely attain the same level of human capital potential (80%).
A look at the top performer
A country's inclusive economic growth necessitates strong investments in human capital – the knowledge, skills, and health that people accumulate throughout their lives – and this is also a key to unlocking a child's potential.
The report highlighted that the topper of the HCI 2020, Singapore, has built a world-class education system with an increasing emphasis on analytical skills, teamwork, and creativity.
The success of these efforts is evident in the component of expected years of school. In the Southeast Asian island state, a child who starts school at the age of 4 can expect to complete 13.9 years of schooling by their 18th birthday.
Around 100% newborns in Singapore survive to age 5 while around 95% of 15-year olds might survive until the age of 60.
According to data from the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), the average life expectancy of Bangladeshis is now 72.6 years.
While the average life expectancy of the people of Singapore was 83 years in 2017.
Despite this enviable position, the Singapore prime minister does not want to sit idle and has stated that "the job is never done," identifying active healthy aging and early childhood education as areas for improvement.
Recommendations for Bangladesh
Bangladesh may lag further behind in human capital because of the adverse impacts of the pandemic, said the report. It, however, recommended that the country can do more than just work to recover the lost ground.
There is a need for ambitious and evidence-driven policy measures in the health, education, and social protection sectors, the World Bank report said, adding such measures may pave the way for today's children to surpass the human-capital achievements and quality of life of the generations that preceded them.
The report also mentioned previous human capital gains can be protected and extended through expanding health service coverage, boosting learning outcomes together with school enrollments and supporting vulnerable families with social protection.
These are achievable by bold policy measures, which can drive a post-Covid resilience recovery, added the report.