Pakistan has faced a number of challenges in recent years, including the Covid-19 pandemic and devastating floods in 2022. According to a recent report by the World Bank, the country needs to declare emergencies and take bold actions to address its health and education challenges, which require long-term planning beyond the tenure of any government and political cycle.
Malnutrition: A Major Challenge
One of Pakistan’s most significant development challenges, according to the World Bank report, is malnutrition, which has long-term consequences for human capital development and economic growth. Malnutrition is still the leading cause of death and disability in Pakistan. The report notes that the Covid-19 pandemic and the 2022 floods have exacerbated this problem. An estimated 75% of Pakistani children were in “learning poverty” before the pandemic, unable to read and understand a simple age-appropriate story by the age of 10.
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A Barrier to Progress
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and the 2022 floods, an estimated 75 per cent of Pakistani children were in ‘learning poverty’, unable to read and understand a simple age-appropriate story by age 10. This creates a barrier to progress for the country, as education is a key driver of human capital development and economic growth.
Low Human Capital Index (HCI)
Pakistan’s Human Capital Index (HCI), according to the report, is low in both absolute and relative terms. It is lower than the South Asia average, with Bangladesh at 0.46 and Nepal at 0.49. Pakistan’s human capital outcomes are more comparable to those in Sub-Saharan Africa, which has an average HCI value of 0.40.
The report highlights that Pakistan is currently unable to reap its rightful dividends due to inadequate investments in education, health, social protection, and the labour force. Its public investment of about 2.5 percent of GDP in education and 0.9 per cent on health is much lower than the global average and the average for similar economies. Pakistan spends about 0.6 per cent of GDP on social safety nets, compared with the global average of 1.5 percent.
The report also highlights the significant differences across socioeconomic and geographic groups. Provincial inequalities, it says, are wide on the HCI and its components, notably for stunting and expected years of schooling.
Low Female Labour Force Participation
According to the report, the strongest driver of low human capital utilisation in Pakistan is low female labour force participation rate. Having more than three in every four women outside the labour force underscores the need to make better use of the human capital that Pakistan generates now and in the future.
The Way Forward
The World Bank report highlights the challenges faced by Pakistan in achieving human capital development and provides recommendations to address them. To achieve a strong foundation for future learning, health, and economic productivity, Pakistan needs to invest in Early Childhood Development (ECD) services, such as nutrition programs, health services, and pre-primary education.
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Improving the quality of education is another crucial area that requires attention. The report suggests focusing on teacher training and support, school infrastructure, and curriculum reform. Additionally, the country must address learning poverty by improving early grade reading skills and fostering a culture of reading. Addressing malnutrition is critical for improving human capital development. Implementing a comprehensive strategy to address malnutrition, including nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions, is essential. Lastly, increasing public investment in education, health, and social protection is recommended to address the issue of inadequate investments in these areas. By taking these bold actions, Pakistan can achieve its goal of human capital development and improve the lives of its citizens in the long term.