Sri Lanka must invest in people to unleash productivity: World Bank

If current education and health conditions persist, a child born in Sri Lanka today will be about half as productive as she or he could have been had they enjoyed a complete education and full health, a new World Bank report notes.

The report, titled “Sri Lanka Human Capital Development: Realising the Promise and Potential of Human Capital”, was unveiled on Friday (27) by the World Bank to guide policymakers and development practitioners across Sri Lanka in better investing in the health and education of all Sri Lankans.

“People are the most valuable resource in any country and investing in people is smart economics,” said  World Bank County Director – Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Maldives Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough. “Technology and automation are radically changing the very nature of work and reshaping industry. Children in primary school today are likely to work in jobs that may not even exist right now. Developing its human capital to a new and higher level will be key for Sri Lanka to become an upper middle-income economy.”

The assessment of Sri Lanka in the report is based on Sri Lanka’s performance in the World Bank Human Capital Index for 2019 released last year, where it obtained an overall score of 58% and a ranking of 74 out of 157 countries.

The Human Capital Index measures and forecasts a country’s human capital through a child’s lifecycle from birth to adulthood.

The new report is part of the Human Capital Project, a global effort led by the World Bank since 2018 that recognises the vital importance of human capital for a country’s future.

Sri Lanka has the highest score in the index in South Asia, above the average for the region and income group. Sri Lanka performs well in survival to age five, expected years of schooling, adult survival, and stunting. The main constraints to achieving a higher score for Sri Lanka are undernutrition, and on average, inadequate learning outcomes in school.

“Sri Lanka needs to address human capital development from the twin perspectives of upper middle-income growth and regional equity,” said Human Development Programme Leader – Sri Lanka and the Maldives Lead Economist Harsha Aturupane. “Greater resources and policy attention are needed for provinces where human capital is less advanced, while also making rapid improvements in human capital in the more advanced provinces.”

The World Bank is helping countries develop their human capital across all levels of education and training. The Sri Lanka Early Childhood Development Project will increase the ability of children from disadvantaged households to access early learning opportunities. The World Bank’s assistance to the general education sector through the General Education Modernisation Project enhances the quality of the general education system. It also contributes to better teacher performance and student learning outcomes in English and mathematics. The Accelerating Higher Education Expansion and Development (AHEAD) Project helps the country increase enrolment in priority disciplines for economic development, improve the quality of degree programmes, and promote research and innovation.