One of the most important resources that drive economic growth and subsequent development in any country in the world is human capital. According to the World Bank Group (WBG), human capital consists of the knowledge, skills, and health that individuals accumulate throughout their lives which drives positive output and helps them contribute to society. All these aspects of human capital are essential in equal measure for an economy to build a population that can offer value in terms of producing and providing quality goods and services. However, for most developing countries, one of the stumbling blocks to long-term economic growth and development is learning poverty, which people, especially girls and persons with disabilities (PWDs), face.
What exactly is learning poverty?
This year, The World Bank Group ( WBG), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), UNICEF, and other organizations jointly published the 2022 state of global learning poverty. From the findings, more than 70 percent of children in low and middle-income countries cannot read and understand a simple story by the end of primary school. This figure was found to be worse in poor countries (around 80 percent). Even though there is a possibility of learning how to read in the future, the first 10 years of a child’s learning life are instrumental in shaping their ability to grasp and understand more complex concepts later on.
In addition, new data from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) shows that around 244 Million children aged 6 to 18 years are still out of school with sub-Saharan Africa and Central and Southern Asia leading with the number of children not attending school. This shows the severity of the learning crisis especially after being exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic as students were not able to go to school for more than a year in some parts of the world and going back was an issue especially for teenage girls as some of them became teenage mothers in some parts of the developing world.
Learning situation in developing countries
Compared to other developed countries, most countries in Africa, Latin America, and South East Asia have poor education curriculums and systems. Education systems in these parts of the world focus on disseminating information to students instead of allowing students to understand and participate in the knowledge-creation process. This system locks out students’ interests and therefore, as an individual progresses, they don’t have a clear picture of what they are good at and what they would like to pursue in the future.
For instance, for the longest time, a country like Kenya has been using a system designed to create job seekers and not entrepreneurs. Children have been brought up to only look up to professionals who sit in offices and do not consider how to create their own enterprises. However, the country is currently in a process of reviewing a new curriculum that was created to fill the gaps that were there before.
As a result, citizens of developing countries usually tend to lag behind when it comes to matching their skills with the needs of the job market. Those who manage to get some education are exposed to skills that are considered inferior as compared to their counterparts in developed nations. Most of the skills that are being acquired are not relevant to the changing needs of the market thus many individuals are not given the opportunity to adequately contribute to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country.
Human capital and economic growth
At the center of economic growth and development is human capital. The skills that people acquire through education are essential in creating wealth for households and consequently the entire country. As more wealth is created, funds are able to be transferred from those who have surplus to those who have deficits thus increasing the trading of goods and services in the goods and money markets. These transactions play an important role in providing capital that is used by companies to expand and create numerous employment opportunities for individuals in a nation.
Economics suggests that as employment levels increase in any country, the level of output is bound to increase. This is because individuals and households will have more disposable income that will increase their effective demand thus contributing to increased economic growth. So one can infer that there is a relationship between the level of literacy and the economic growth of a country. Nations that make an effort to invest in people thus human capital are better placed when it comes to economic advancement and growth.
Efforts to reduce learning poverty
The World Bank Group and other international organizations have been at the forefront of advocating for the eradication of learning poverty in middle and low-income countries. Through the human capital project, The World Bank is working with more than 86 countries as of October 2022, to help devise more strategic approaches to transform their human capital outcomes. The project is aimed at accelerating investments in the human capital of developing countries focusing on improving the skills of individuals while leveraging technology and innovation. In addition, the World Bank is the largest financier of education projects in developing countries with projects in over 100 countries as of 2021.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is also working on creating an environment where all children can equally access schools and obtain a good quality education. On 19th September 2022, the UN secretary general convened the transforming education summit whose main aim was to take stock of the progress of reducing learning poverty after the COVID-19 pandemic, re-imagine education systems and take more steps in moving towards achieving SDG number 4 which is on quality education.
I regard myself as a lifelong student, without education, where would I be? Where would any of us be?Antonio Guterres, United Nations Secretary General during the United Nations General Assembly 2022.
In conclusion, the learning crisis must be addressed for developing countries to experience more economic growth and advancement. One of the ways of doing so is investing in the human capital of individuals from the childhood level. It’s important to note that even though the COVID-19 pandemic and other overlapping crises have eroded the advancements made in the fight against learning poverty, it’s incumbent upon everyone to ensure that young children and adolescents in developing countries get an equal shot at life through quality education. When this is achieved, more people-centered economic growth will be experienced especially in the long run.
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