Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

A terrible education system and high levels of stunted growth of children are some of the reasons SA is not ready to compete in the economy of the future, according to World Bank president Jim Yong Kim.

Kim said the country’s levels of stunting among children was more than 27%, according to the bank’s October human capital index.

Stunting is defined as the proportion of children under the age of five years whose height and weight for their age are below the average standards, with the World Health Organisation attributing it to malnutrition in early childhood, including during foetal development.

Speaking at a public lecture in Johannesburg on Monday night, Kim warned that the country faced a human capital crisis.

SA was ranked 126 out of 157 countries in the capital index report, which measured the amount of human capital a child born today can expect to attain by the age of 18 years. The report also conveys the expected productivity of the next generation of workers, among others.

“The actual brain volume of stunted children is 40% less than non-stunted children. These children are locked in their brains in a state when they are not going to compete, certainly in the digital economy.

“I would argue that in some countries the percentage of children that are stunted would be the source of instability in those societies in times to come because everyone is going to be able to get broadband and know how everyone else lives. Those children who are stunted and have had terrible education will be sitting there saying ‘why I cannot participate?’” Kim said.

The World Bank leader also emphasised the need for developing countries, especially in Africa, to build basic infrastructure “that makes sense”.

Kim broached the subject of SA’s high broadband or data costs, saying “this should not be”.

World Bank Group president Jim Yong Kim. Picture: EPA/SHAWN THEW
World Bank Group president Jim Yong Kim. Picture: EPA/SHAWN THEW

He said SA’s e-commerce economy had the potential to work well; however, it was nowhere as well organised as it could be and the government needed to figure out what infrastructure should be built to provide opportunities to all South Africans.

He added that the country’s education system had to be aligned with industry needs. Referring to the technical and vocational education and training institutions, he said these could not be started “out of nowhere” without being tied to industry demands. However, the institutions also had to focus on socio-emotional skills, which have been identified by the World Economic Forum, among others, as the skills of the future.

The shift in the nature of work has been spurred on by the rise of the fourth industrial revolution, which has introduced the digital economy and other technological advancements that have reshaped industries.

Kim said that in order to address the human capital crisis, countries such as SA needed to build digital economies for inclusive growth.

“If your economies are not growing, you are in trouble. We deeply believe in inclusive, sustainable economic growth … in addition to our ending poverty goal, we have a goal for the bottom 40%. We are addressing inequality for the first time directly at the World Bank group, but you have to have growth,” he said.

The country’s GDP figures were expected to be released on Tuesday following a contraction in the first and second quarters, which placed the economy in recession for the first time since the 2008 global economic crisis.

mahlakoanat@businesslive.co.za