Asian countries have topped a new World Bank measure called the “human capital index” – a measure of youth mortality, schooling and health. The institution said increasing health and education investment could lead to more than half the children born this year doubling their lifetime earnings.
The human capital index is an attempt to shame countries into boosting efforts “to ensure a healthy, educated and resilient population ready for the workplace of the future”, the bank said.
Singapore topped the poll after it was highly rated for its universal healthcare system, education exams results and life expectancy figures. The rest of the top five were South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong and Finland (0.81). Ireland was sixth and Australia was seventh, with the UK in 15th behind Austria, Slovenia and the Czech Republic but above France (22) and the United States (27).
African countries feature heavily in the bottom 20 places in the index, the Washington-based development organisation said in a report. It judged that they had failed to make sure millions of children had the diet, healthcare and education in their early years to prepare them to take skilled jobs later in life.
Launched at the World Bank’s annual meeting with the International monetary Fund in Bali, the report recognises the gains of the past 40 years in improving the number of children at school and mortality rates. But it said countries now needed to focus more on the outcomes for children or risk millions of young workers having few skills for the modern workplace.
World Bank Group president Jim Yong Kim said even the poorest countries could put in places measures to improve life chances, dismissing critics who claim that many nations lacked the means to implement reforms to improve children’s life chances.
He argued that it was clear that handing developing world countries extra funds was not the answer, but offering better ways of teaching, parenting and providing healthcare was equally important.
“For the poorest people, human capital is often the only capital they have. It is a key driver of sustainable, inclusive economic growth, but investing in health and education has not gotten the attention it deserves,” he said.
“This index creates a direct line between improving outcomes in health and education, productivity, and economic growth. I hope that it drives countries to take urgent action and invest more – and more effectively – in their people.”
The index is based on three components. Survival rates and in particular mortality rates at five years old. The quality and quality of education, which Kim said reflected new work at the World Bank to harmonise test scores from major international student testing programs into a single measure of learning outcomes. Third is a measure of healthy growth among under-fives.
Kim described Nigeria, which appears in the bottom 10 countries, as an example of an oil-rich country that neglected its education system.
He said the west African country less than 4% of GDP on education and much of these funds came from the World Bank and other donors, with only a small amount from the finance ministry.
Kim Said: “Too many African countries say they are working hard to get rich and then they will spend on health and education. What we are saying is that they need to focus on health and education now.”
Latin America is an area where spending on health and education has risen , but we haven’t seen the dramatic improvements we would expect to see, so it is not just about money. It is about how you spend it”
Singapore, a city state of 6 million people, hit the top spot despite being ranked in the bottom 10 countries on Oxfam’s inequality index earlier this week. The aid charity focused mainly on low health spending, a lack of workers’ rights and a regressive tax system that charges a 22% top rate of tax.
Kim, following a theme in the World Bank report, said health spending was low but an innovative insurance system produced high standards for most citizens.
The bank, which provides development loans to poorer countries, has come under fire following publication of its Doing Business Index, which critics say rewards nations that keep corporate taxes low and cut regulations, leaving finance ministries without the tax revenues needed to boost investment.