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Reexamining Human Capital in Kuwait
January 19, 2019, 5:21 pm

Kuwait scores above the median in the World Bank’s Human Capital Index for 2018. The result might bring a whew of relief from concerned authorities, but the fact remains that despite huge investments in health and education the outcomes have been less than salutary, and the country continues to trail neighbors in the region.

The Human Capital Index (HCI) measures the amount of human capital a child born today can expect to attain by age 18, based on risks to health and education that prevail in the country where the child lives. A country in which a child born today can expect to achieve complete education and full health by age 18, scores a value of 1 on the index. At the other end of the HCI spectrum are countries whose scores are closer to zero. The index is designed to highlight how improvements in current health and education outcomes can shape productivity of the next generation of workers.

In the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) bloc, Bahrain was at pole position with a value of 0.67 and ranked 47th globally, followed closely by the UAE with a score of 0.66 and 49th rank. Oman with a value of 0.62 was 54th globally, while Qatar with a score of 0.60 ranked 60th and Saudi Arabia with 0.59 was ranked 73rd. Kuwait with a score of 0.58 was ranked 77th among the 157 nations assessed for the Index. Singapore topped the list with an index value of 0.88, while Chad in Africa was at the bottom with a 0.29 scoring.

The latest HCI is part of the World Bank’s Human Capital Project 2019, which aims to raise awareness in countries on the importance of building human capital, while highlighting the costs of failing to do so. By improving the skills, health, knowledge and resilience of citizens, which together form the human capital, people can potentially become more productive, and innovative, in addition to becoming more flexible to the changing nature of work. With better and more investments in human capital, countries can also hope to develop greater equity and ensure sustainable economic growth.

The Index aims to spur governments to spend more on health and education. However, in Kuwait, though there have been ample investments in both these sectors the outcomes still leave much to be desired. While Kuwait fared overall high in health and in certain education metrics, a more granular examination of the data reveals inadequacies and inefficiencies in both areas. Clearly, greater attention needs to be paid to the shortcomings on these fronts in order to better prepare youth to meet and overcome future challenges posed by a rapidly changing world, and to help develop a healthier and more resilient society.

Easily accessible, good-quality healthcare provided to citizens throughout their life has ensured that Kuwait scored very high on health metrics in the HCI. In the probability of survival to age 5, the country was just a notch below the 1 mark, while in the fraction of children under 5 who are not stunted it scored 0.95, and the adult survival rate in the country was 0.92.

However, these health ratios fail to bring out the impaired quality of life that confronts many among the younger population in the country. In the Kuwait National Surveillance System, a study conducted a few years ago by the Ministry of Health, it was found that over 20 percent of school-age children in the country were overweight, with a quarter of them being obese.

In addition, latest figures from the World Health Organization (WHO), show that in 2016 around 73 percent of the deaths in Kuwait were due to Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD). The majority of these deaths were attributed to cardiovascular ailments (41%), cancers (14%), diabetes (4%) and chronic respiratory diseases (2%). In addition, the WHO report also noted that nearly 15 percent of the population were diabetic, and that 74 percent were overweight, of whom 38 percent were obese.

Metrics from the HCI on the education front were also similarly skewed when examined in detail. The index showed that the Expected Years of School for children between the ages of 4 to 17 was a fairly high 12.5 years in the pre-primary to upper-secondary stages of schooling. However, the data also revealed that when it came to the quality of education, Kuwait still had a long way to go.

In the Harmonized Test Scores, which synchronized scores across major international student achievement testing programs, and where a score of 300 indicated minimal and 625 displayed advanced attainment, Kuwait scored a dismal 383 points. Accordingly, the Learning Adjusted Years of School, which multiplies the Expected Years of School by the ratio of Harmonized Test Scores to advanced attainment of 625, Kuwait fell to 7.6 years of effective schooling.

In comparison, effective years of schooling in Saudi Arabia was 8.1 years, in Qatar 8.5, in Oman 8.9, in the UAE 9.5 and in Bahrain 9.6 years. Compared to their peers in other GCC countries, children in Kuwait are obviously receiving less than optimal education during the years they spend in school.

It is encouraging that the authorities have in recent years become increasingly aware of the shortcomings in the educational process. The government’s New Kuwait vision, which aims to transform the country into a financial, commercial and cultural hub in the region by the year 2035, has drawn up clear plans, priorities and projects for developing the country’s human capital.

Through a comprehensive reform of the country’s education system, the authorities aim to improve the quality of education provided and better prepare youth to become competitive and productive members of the future workforce. With a deadline set for the end of 2020, many of the projects and programs introduced by the government are already at various phases of development. 

The National Learning Standards Project, which is nearing completion, aims to improve the qualitative element of the learning process in Kuwait. The overarching objective of this scheme, which includes students, teachers, school administration, the curricula, schools and learning resources, is to achieve excellence in the outcomes of the educational process and improve Kuwait’s ranking on international assessment indices.

In the wake of results from studies conducted to fully measure and evaluate the country’s educational process, a capacity development program for teachers has also been developed. The program objective is to improve the professional growth of teachers, while evaluating their effectiveness through regular and stringent accreditation processes.

Meanwhile, the School Excellence Project seeks to rank performance levels of schools based on broad quality standards in school management. The project goal is to implement effective preventive and remedial measures so as to ensure the quality of school services and their continuous development.

Given the small size of Kuwait’s population and considering that more than a quarter of the people are below the age of 20, the real numbers behind the HCI are alarming. It is reassuring to note that the authorities have realized the importance and urgency of the matter and are implementing preventive and ameliorative measures to develop the country’s future human capital.

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