Strengthening human capital for inclusive development

“Development is about transforming the lives of people, not just transforming economies.”– Joseph Stiglitz Bangladesh, a ‘paradox’ in development literature, is the second fastest growing economy, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The country has reached the magic 7 (7.1 per cent according to BBS) in gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate in the 2015-16 fiscal year. It has recently been upgraded to Lower Middle-Income Country as per World Bank’s classification where it aspires to graduate from the least developed country (LDC) status to middle-income country by 2021, as per UN’s classification. Observing stable performance in all economic indicators it can be stated that the country is on the right track. However, there are concerns over radicalism and extremism in the last years that are potentially capable of turning things around.

The social construct of a country is highly dependent on the economic system and development policy of that country. Recent decades have been observing a major shift from the physical resource base to human capital base as a strategy of development. The revolution in the ICT sector facilitates such reformation of strategies. The global economies are no more dependent on natural resources. Even sometimes natural resources may bring curse for an economy if the local management is poor as argued by Nobel Laureate Economist Joseph Stiglitz. Natural resources have a role in the initial stage of development where it is possible to achieve growth with low human capital and poor governance. However, sustainable development of any economy is highly dependent on the quality of human capital the economy possesses. Education, health, training are the key factors of human capital. Cross country data suggest that per capita public expenditure on education and health has a positive correlation with per capita GDP growth.

If we look at the economic indicators, we see that Bangladesh has been growing extraordinarily well in major fields of the economy. The GDP growth is increasing with a stable rate: 6.1 per cent in 2014, 6.5 per cent in 2015 and 7.1 per cent in 2016 as per BBS report. Life expectancy at birth was73.2 in 2016 whereas it was 68.43 in 2006, 62.63 in 1996 and 56 in 1986. This is a remarkable achievement in life expectancy where about 17.2 years increased in only 30 years. But the real situation of public health is questionable.

Literacy rate, according to UNESCO, has increased from 38.1 per cent in 1995 to 61.5 per cent in 2016. With the growth of middle class, the awareness of attaining education has increased and private investment in education also increased as well. Unfortunately, public sector education is facing crucial challenge of survival. The government expenditure on education is also one of the lowest in the world: 2 per cent of GDP. The quality of education is the worst ever in history which is named as “Learning Crisis” by the World Bank. Without a massive reforms in the education sector, it is not possible to sustain the progress already made in different sectors.

The fruits of demographic dividend are exclusively dependent on proper utilisation of youth through education and training and involving them in the community development process. Bangladesh is expected to benefit from demographic dividend with its significant number of youth population. But in the absence of proper utilisation of the youth potentials, it will be a huge burden for the country. In a recently published ILO report, it was stated that around 40 per cent of the young people aged between 15 and 24 years in Bangladesh are neither in education nor in employment nor in any form of training. According to BBS estimation, the figure would be 11.6 million among a total of 29 million youth of that age group in the country.

The welfare nature of any society is based upon the social up-gradation process of its population keeping pace with economic development. Social up-gradation can be achieved through targeted policy with special care to create more employment opportunities for this huge group of young population.

In the context of new development paradigm, massive economic growth doesn’t mean a great deal to progress. There must be social justice, good governance and minimum inequality for the sake of sustenance. Development has to be inclusive — all citizens from every part of society have to be engaged in every aspect of social development process.

Alauddin Mohammad is a Lecturer at Uttara University and Muhammad Iqbal Hossain is a  post-graduate from Dhaka School of Economics.