Due to Covid-19, most children – more than one billion – have been out of school and could lose out, on average, half a year of schooling, the World Bank says.
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Pandemic threatens human capital gains of the past decade

The COVID-19 pandemic threatens hard-won gains in health and education over the past decade, especially in the poorest countries, a new World Bank Group analysis finds. Investments in human capital – the knowledge, skills, and health that people accumulate over their lives – are key to unlocking a child’s potential and to improving economic growth in every country.

The World Bank Group’s 2020 Human Capital Index, published last September, includes health and education data for 174 countries – covering 98 per cent of the world’s population – up to March 2020, providing a pre-pandemic baseline on the health and education of children. The analysis shows that pre-pandemic, most countries had made steady progress in building human capital of children, with the biggest strides made in low-income countries. Despite this progress, and even before the effects of the pandemic, a child born in a typical country could expect to achieve just 56 per cent of their potential human capital, relative to a benchmark of complete education and full health.

"The pandemic puts at risk the decade's progress in building human capital, including the improvements in health, survival rates, school enrolment and reduced stunting. The economic impact of the pandemic has been particularly deep for women and for the most disadvantaged families, leaving many vulnerable to food insecurity and poverty," said World Bank Group President David Malpass. “Protecting and investing in people is vital as countries work to lay the foundation for sustainable, inclusive recoveries and future growth."

Due to the pandemic’s impact, most children – more than one billion – have been out of school and could lose out, on average, half a year of schooling, adjusted for learning, translating into considerable monetary losses. Data also shows significant disruptions to essential health services for women and children, with many children missing out on crucial vaccinations.

Analysis of the human capital outcomes from 2010 to 2020


The 2020 Human Capital Index also presents a decade-long view of the evolution of human capital outcomes from 2010 to 2020, finding improvements across all regions, where data are available, and across all income levels. These were largely due to improvements in health, reflected in better child and adult survival rates and reduced stunting, as well as an increase in school enrolment. The pandemic is now putting this progress at risk, the World Bank warns.

The analysis finds that human capital outcomes for girls are on average higher than for boys. However, this has not translated into comparable opportunities to use human capital in the labour market: on average, employment rates are 20 percentage points lower for women than for men, with a wider gap in many countries and regions. Moreover, the pandemic is exacerbating risks of gender-based violence, child marriage and adolescent pregnancy, all of which further reduce opportunities for learning and empowerment for women and girls.

Today, hard-won human capital gains in many countries are at risk, the analysis shows. But countries can do more than just work to recover the lost progress. To protect and extend earlier human capital gains, countries need to expand health service coverage and quality among marginalised communities, boost learning outcomes together with school enrolments and support vulnerable families with social protection measures adapted to the scale of the COVID-19 crisis.

Ambitious, evidence-driven policy measures in health, education, and social protection can recover lost ground and pave the way for today’s children to surpass the human capital achievements and quality of life of the generations that preceded them. 

The World Bank Group is taking broad action to help developing countries strengthen their pandemic response. According to a World Bank Group press release it is supporting public health interventions, working to ensure the flow of critical supplies and equipment and helping the private sector continue to operate and sustain jobs. The Bank will be deploying up to USD 160 billion in financial support over 15 months to help more than 100 countries protect the poor and vulnerable, support businesses and bolster economic recovery.

(World Bank/wi)

World Bank. 2020. The Human Capital Index 2020 Update: Human Capital in the Time of COVID-19. World Bank, Washington, DC. © World Bank. License: CC BY 3.0 IGO