Brunei scores high in human capital, development

Azlan Othman

Brunei Darussalam came into the global limelight recently with its high achievement in socio-economic development, attaining a high score in the UN Development Index and the World Bank’s latest Human Capital Index (HCI).

The sultanate is in third place in Southeast Asia in the latest edition of the World Bank’s annual HCI that benchmarks key components of human capital across 174 countries globally.

The sultanate scored 0.63 points after Singapore and Vietnam with 0.88 and 0.69 points. It is based from several components, such as the mortality rate and stunting of children under five, the quantity and quality of education as well as the ability to be sustainable among adults.

The HCI is an international metric that benchmarks key components of human capital across countries. Measuring the human capital that a child born today can expect to attain by their 18th birthday, the HCI highlights how current health and education outcomes shape the productivity of the next generation of workers. In this way, it underscores the importance for governments and societies of investing in the human capital of their citizens.

The HCI was launched in 2018 as part of the Human Capital Project (HCP), a global effort to accelerate progress towards a world where all children can achieve their full potential. The index conveys the productivity of the next generation of workers compared to a benchmark of complete education and full health. Worldwide a child born in 2020 can expect, on average, to be 56 per cent as productive as they could be when they grow up. All data represent the status of countries pre-COVID-19.

In the category of HCI, a child born in Brunei Darussalam today will be 63 per cent as productive when they grow up as they could be if they enjoyed complete education and full health. This is higher than the average for East Asia and Pacific region but lower than the average for high income countries.

As for the probability of survival to age five, 99 out of 100 children born in Brunei survive to age five while for the expected years of school, a child who starts school at age four can expect to complete 13.2 years of school by their 18th birthday.

In the category of harmonised test scores, students in Brunei scored 438 on a scale where 625 represents advanced attainment and 300 represents minimum attainment. In the category of learning-adjusted years of school, factoring in what children actually learn, expected years of school is only 9.2 years.

For adult survival rate, across Brunei, 88 per cent of 15-year olds will survive until age 60. This statistic is a proxy for the range of health risks that a child born today would experience as an adult under current conditions.

Meanwhile, as for healthy growth (not stunted rate), 80 out of 100 children are not stunted. Twenty out of 100 children are stunted, and so are at risk of cognitive and physical limitations that can last a lifetime. In Brunei, the HCI for girls is higher than for boys.

Last month, the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General’s policy brief, ‘The Impact of COVID-19 on Southeast Asia’ revealed that Brunei has a high development index (HDI) of 0.841 and received a high score in health systems in ASEAN, especially in the provision of nurses and midwifery, and in second tier for physicians and hospital beds.

The report also said digital technology has also proved to be a critical tool in response to the pandemic. However, the benefits it offers are beyond the reach of the 55 per cent of Southeast Asia’s population who remain offline.

A regionally coordinated and scaled up effort is needed to put in place next-generation infrastructure networks and ensure universal digital connectivity, the ‘brief’ highlighted. In the report, the sultanate’s connectivity scored high especially in mobile phone subscription and in second tier for fixed broadband subscription.

The report also said the current low oil and gas prices offer an opportunity to impose carbon pricing mechanisms and eliminate wasteful fossil fuel subsidies. By phasing out subsidies, countries could finance most or all of their current stimulus packages. Such measures would create massive fiscal space and boost low carbon alternatives such as renewable energy and energy efficiency.

The crisis presents an opportunity for countries to re-orient their development towards sustainability, particularly through green recovery packages. Stimulus packages should be directed to industries that are low-carbon, resource efficient and aligned with environmental and climate objectives.