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Kenya leads rest of Africa in employee productivity race

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Kenya is poised to produce Africa’s most productive human capital in the medium term, a World Bank survey shows, buoyed by the country’s present deep investment in healthcare and child education.

The inaugural Human Capital Index (HCI) the World Bank published recently shows that Kenya ties with Algeria in offering the best education and health in the continent — factors that would make them churn out most productive workers by 2036.

Kenya scores 0.52 to rank 94 in the world out of the 157 countries ranked in the HCI that puts Singapore on top of the world with a score of 0.88. It beats large economies in Africa such as South Africa, Nigeria and Egypt.

The report comes barely a month after Bloomberg report ranked Kenyan immigrants working in the US as the third most skilled and industrious foreigners.

In the region, Tanzania scores 0.40 in the HCI at position 128 followed by Ethiopia, Uganda and Sudan with 0.38 at position 135, 137 and 139 respectively while Rwanda scores 0.37 at position 142.

The index is measured in terms of the productivity of the next generation of workers relative to the benchmark of complete education and full health. An economy in which the average worker achieves both full health and education potential will score a value of one on the index.

The study measures the consequences of neglecting investments in human capital in terms of the lost productivity of the next generation of workers.

“In countries with the lowest human capital investments today, our analysis suggests that the workforce of the future will only be one-third to one-half as productive as it could be if people enjoyed full health and received a high-quality education,” the report says.

The HCI survey shows that Kenya has made efforts in building the right foundations to churn out productive workers by the age of 18. Kenya has in the past decade been implementing various reforms aimed at improving the quality of education.

Key among them is funding of the free primary and day-secondary education. In addition, the government registered more technical and vocational education training (TVET) institutions to bridge skill gaps in the labour market.

The reforms have yielded some fruit with Economic Survey 2018 showing that total enrolment in pre-primary schools rose by 2.9 per cent to 3.29 million in 2017 compared to the previous year while enrolment in primary schools increased from 10.3 million in 2016 to 10.4 million in 2017.

In addition, enrolment in secondary schools grew by 4.1 per cent to 2.83 million in 2017.

As jobs become defined by more cognitive and analytical tasks, the World Bank cites Kenyan worker as having the ability to compete well.

“In Bolivia and Kenya, more than 40 per cent of workers using computers perform complex tasks that require advanced programming,” says the report.

"Indeed, the demand is growing for transferable higher-order cognitive skills such as logic, critical thinking, complex problem-solving, and reasoning.”

In health, the report observes that Kenya has made progress in making children survive from birth to school age. It notes that the death of any child is not only a tragedy but also a loss of human capital, which is never realised.

The report further provides a strong positive correlation between the health of children and the eventual productivity and salaries they will earn in adult life.

The report says that investments in early childhood development including in nutrition, health, protection and education, lay strong foundations for the future acquisition of higher-order cognitive and socio-behavioural skills.

It explains that individuals who acquire such skills in early childhood are more resilient to uncertainties they may experience later in life.

“People are more productive when they are healthier. A study in Kenya showed that deworming in childhood reduced school absences while raising wages in adulthood by as much as 20 per cent, all thanks to a pill that costs 25 cents to produce and deliver,” notes the study.

The World Bank study also shows that bureaucracies charged with implementing policies to build human capital often lack the capacity or the incentives to do so effectively.

Service delivery indicators survey the World Bank conducted in seven countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including Kenya found that, on average, three in 10 fourth-grade teachers had not mastered the language curriculum they were teaching.

“On a positive note, 94 per cent of Kenyan teachers had done so,” says the report that also ranks Kenyan doctors ahead of Nigeria.

“The surveys paint an equally mixed picture for healthcare facilities: About 80 per cent of Kenyan doctors could correctly diagnose a basic condition such as neonatal asphyxia, whereas less than 50 per cent of Nigerian doctors were able to do so.”

However, the report says there are cases where despite high participation rates in early childhood education, the curriculum and pedagogical approach in Kenya were not age-appropriate.

“In the programme, 3- to 6-year-olds had to follow academic-oriented instruction and even sit for examinations,” says the study.

But despite being seen as a hotbed for the next talent, the report notes that Kenya’s informal employment is at a staggering 77.9 per cent of total employment, one of the highest rates in the African continent. This condemns workers to low pay.

The World Bank says the informal sector in Kenya raises income by only 2.7 per cent a year compared to 4.1 per cent in the formal sector.

“(This) is approximately 1.5 times higher than for incomes in the informal sector. The difference is potent,” notes the World Bank.

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