Human Capital: Why Pakistan’s ‘Prized’ Youth Bulge isn’t Helping Much?

Pakistan was placed 125th out of 130 countries studied by the World Economic Forum for its Global Human Capital Development Report 2017. Let that sink. One hundred and twenty fifth of a total 130 countries. As appalling as it is, the country’s rank becomes even more worrisome when one considers the nations that managed to fare better than ours. Sierra Leone, Swaziland, Lesotho, Chad and Liberia were among the countries that ranked higher than Pakistan.

Many of these countries are far poorer than Pakistan and have been ravaged by civil wars for years at a stretch. However, The World Economic Forum (WEF) report says the development of human capital in these remained more impressive than in Pakistan.

According to WEF, the Human Capital Index 2017 studied 130 countries to gauge how “well they are developing their human capital on a scale from 0 (worst) to 100 (best) across four thematic subindexes—Capacity, Deployment, Development and Know-how—and five distinct age groups or generations—0–14 years; 15–24 years; 25–54 years; 55–64 years; and 65 years and over.

The comprehensive study was undertaken to measure the complete human capital potential profile of a country and researchers claim it can be “used as a tool to assess progress within countries and points to opportunities for cross-country learning and exchange”. The capacity sub-index measured the percentage of population that has “achieved at least primary, (lower) secondary or tertiary education, respectively, and the proportion of the population that has a basic level of literacy and numeracy”. The deployment sub-index measured how many people are able to participate actively in the workforce, while the know-how score measured the “breadth and depth of specialized skills use at work”. Development sub-index took stock of “formal education of the next-generation workforce and continued upskilling and reskilling of the current workforce”.

Pakistan performed rather poorly in all these sub-indices. It was ranked 111th for capacity, 123rd for both deployment and development, while it fared marginally better, 96th, than its neighbours for know-how.

Youth disuse?

The median age of Pakistan’s population is 22.5 years, making the county one of youngest among the comity of nations. China’s median age in comparison is 39 years, while Japan’s is 46.3. Political sermons and talk show debates make us believe that the young population makes Pakistan ready for an economic take-off. Sadly, the youth cannot enable that flight without the requisite know-how, skills and capacity. An alarming statistic from the same report points to a greater problem. WEF estimates that the median years of education the Pakistani population receives is 4.6 years. Just 4.6 years! Contrarily, its 12.5 years for Japan and 12 years for Norway, the top ranked country in the index.

The reasons for the paltry average schooling median of 4.6 for Pakistan are many; limited access to schools, poor in-school facilities, departmental corruption, parent attitude towards education, especially girls’, substandard training of teachers and economic hardships of families making way for a high dropout rate from schools etc. But the primary reason for the sorry state of affairs of our country’s human capital has to be a serious lack of an educational vision at the policy level. Education and its provision have never remained a priority. For evidence, we need not go much further than the fact that a vast majority of our population still believes education does no good. In more than 65 years of its existence, the state hasn’t been able to make the idea of education being important dawn upon its subjects, let alone making available the facilities that enable every child to get an education.

The focus of successive governments for many years has remained on projects that are visible to a wider audience. Carpeting of roads, construction of overhead bridges, metro bus services; tangible proofs of work done. Such projects have been portrayed as evidences of the country’s progress. And the purported progress is manifest in the WEF index.

The report highlighted that the human capital potential of Pakistan was “held back by insufficient educational enrolment rates and poor-quality primary schools”. In the National Plan of Action 2013-2016, it was proposed that public spending on education would be taken up to 4% of the GDP. Like other goals, this was missed as well and Pakistan’s current public spending on education is estimated at 2.6% of GDP. Norway spends 7.4% of its GDP on education, and even Yemen, the lowest ranked in the index, spends 5.1% of GDP on education.

So the next time you hear someone saying Pakistan is on way to becoming an economic giant, remind them of the pitiable state your fellow countrymen are in with respect to human development.

There is still time before the youth bulge we like to brag about turns into a cancerous tumour. If only someone does something about it.