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What comes next in promoting human capital in the GCC?

On December 9th, 2020, my colleagues and I at the World Bank held a webinar with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) leaders on accelerating human capital (HC) formation and broadening regional collaboration in the time of COVID-19. The GCC countries, coping with the dual shocks of the pandemic and low oil prices, are standing at the crossroad of economic and social transformation.  The future of the region depends on how well they can continue to foster human capital (HC) development for new generations.

Most GCC countries have made progress in the Human Capital Index (HCI) in the last decade. However, the region’s performance still lags behind, compared to countries with the same income level. As we shared in our presentation, a child born today in the GCC will attain only between 56% and 67% of his/her full health and learning potential and therefore potential productivity by age 18.  To help improve this index, the GCC generally needs to focus on these pillars:

  1. Prioritize public investment in early childhood development (ECD) and expand enrollment in early childhood education.
  2. Focus learning on skills rather than credentials.
  3. Promote female labor force participation and reduce skills mismatch.
  4. Reduce risk factors of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), especially among youth.
  5. Develop all-of-government, whole-of-society actions that motivate behavioral changes and increase value for money in these investments.

Some highlights from the webinar are discussed below.

The UAE has been the front-runner in HC investment and formation in the region. One of the webinar participants, H.E. Hanan Mansoor Ahli, the Acting Director General of the UAE Federal Competitiveness and Statistics Authority, shared UAE’s investment and strategies. In 2020, the UAE government allocated the largest proportion of its public budget to human welfare and social development sectors at 42.3%. This includes 17% of the budget for health and 7.3% for education.

Ms. Ahli also discussed the UAE’s Healthcare Innovation Strategy for 2019-2021 with a new focus on preventive medicine and healthy lifestyles. Some of the programs are focused on, combatting child and adolescent obesity through a national Student Growth Record, establishing electronic patient profiles through the Warid System, improving patient safety and use of drugs using a smart application “UAE RADR,” and supporting the nursing profession using mobile game “Sanad & Rahma.” The UAE has also added additional health regulatory measures like a 100% excise tax on electronic smoking devices and equipment, and a 50% excise tax on sugar sweetened beverages.

The UAE Education Strategy 2021 aims to build inclusive, equitable and quality education for all. To raise literacy level for Arabic speakers all over the world, the authority launched the Madrasa E-learning Platform in 2018. Madrasa provides more than 5,000 free-of-charge educational videos in Arabic, focusing on physics, chemistry, biology,…

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