Brazilian children will only develop 54% of their human capital

Index measured by the World Bank shows the size of talent waste in the country

In Brazil, a child born in 2021 will only develop their skills to the point of reaching 54% of their potential when they reach 18 years old, according to the results of the Brazilian Human Capital Report from the World Bank, released in July. 

This report is part of the Human Capital Project, the entity's initiative to alert governments about the importance of investing in people. To do this, the Human Capital Index (ICH) is measured, which reflects the productivity of a person born in the year of the survey when they reach the age of majority. To make this calculation, the World Bank evaluates child health, education and health indicators. 

ICH matters not only because it determines the level of income and work opportunities a person will have in adulthood, but also because of its impact on a country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This is because the index calculates the expected productivity of the next generation of workers (if a country's circumstances do not change). A higher ICH, therefore, means greater productivity in the future.

In two years of the Covid-19 pandemic, Brazil lost the progress made over a decade — children born in 2019 would develop 60% of their potential. To recover this loss, it would take the country 10 to 13 years, according to the report. If the growth trajectory observed between 2007 and 2019 continues, it will take 60 years to match the ICH levels of developed nations.

Regional, racial and gender differences

The ICH varies greatly across Brazil. A child born in the North or Northeast, for example, develops approximately half of their entire potential talent — 10 percentage points less than those born in the Southeast. The average ICH of the North and Northeast regions in 2019 was similar to the average ICH of the South, Southeast and Midwest regions in 2007, according to the report.

In recent decades, the Northeast has had the highest growth in human capital in the country. The biggest increases in ICH occurred in the states of Pernambuco (25.6%), Alagoas (20.9%) and Ceará (17.9%). The North had the worst performance: Amapá, Roraima and Tocantins recorded the lowest ICH gains between 2007 and 2019.

Other differences are observed in relation to race and gender. The ICH of Brazilian women (60%) is higher than that of men (53%), which means that they are a decade ahead of them, with higher rates in practically all municipalities. 

That of black people (56%) is seven percentage points lower than that of white people (63%) — that of the indigenous population is even lower: 52%. Between 2007 and 2019, the ICH of white people increased by 14.6%, a faster pace than that of black people (10.2%) and indigenous people (0.97%).

Is there a way out?

The report points out some ways for Brazil to reverse the decline in the ICH in the coming years:

  • Protect children and adolescents from the health and socio-emotional consequences of the pandemic through the Unified Health System (SUS);
  • Strengthen the conditional income transfer program (considered by the World Bank to be one of the most successful in the world) so as not to worsen existing inequalities;
  • Strengthen recent national reforms to make the curriculum more flexible and promote more equitable financing in education;
  • Implement preventive warning systems in schools to identify students at high risk of dropping out and dropping out of school and take preventive measures;
  • Prioritize the recovery and acceleration of learning with personalized tutoring and adaptive learning platforms, which work in the short term;
  • Take care of the mental health of students and teachers and articulate socio-emotional strategies in the school network to avoid unmotivated students;
  • Strengthen hybrid learning, expand internet connectivity and provide computing devices to vulnerable students so that everyone can improve their digital skills.
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