“Many policy analysts consider literacy rates a crucial measure of a regionâ€šs human capital. This claim is made on the grounds that literate people can be trained less expensively than illiterates. Policy makers also argue that literacy increases job opportunities and access to higher education” – www.answers.com
It has been continually repeated that on average the Caribbean is a relatively poor region even though there are obvious pockets of affluence and there are significant potential resources which have not been fully exploited. There are many types of capital which may be exploited for development. These include human, intellectual, social, cultural, physical, natural and financial capital. To date we have exploited our natural resources (eco-systems, energy, minerals, water and top soil) to some extent. Throughout the Caribbean our major industry is a service industry, the tourism industry, where we have successfully garnered our natural, cultural and social) resources to meet the needs of foreign visitors.
Our physical capital has certainly been enhanced over the years as financial capital has been injected to improve roads, build stadia, university campuses and the like. Our social capital is still leaking at the seams in terms of harmony among our people as manifested by cooperation, trust and loyalty. We have striven to increase our human capital by improving our knowledge and skills base and gathering increased levels of experience. Our intellectual capital has not been released to reveal the latent innovation and talent which lie dormant in our communities. We will not be able to boast of our own financial capital until we become a rich region which means that be have to be successful in integrating borrowed capital with our other assets in pursuit of wealth creation.
Even though the distribution of these types of capital is not uniform throughout the Caribbean there is one form of capital which is common to all territories and that is, its people. The people asset must be developed to the fullest if we are going to alleviate poverty and improve our economic growth for the socio-economic benefit of all.
I have mentioned several times in this column the relationship between tertiary output per capita (the percentage of persons accessing higher education) and economic growth. Countries with low tertiary output per capita have low GDP per capita. Countries with high tertiary output per capita have high GDP per capita. It is, therefore, a no brainer to recognize that, to achieve high GDP per capita, which is a manifestation of economic development, one must have a policy framework which aggressively addresses an increase in tertiary output per capita. The Republic of Ireland is the most recent emerging nation to successfully implement such a policy. We must learn from them.
It was reported in the Business Authority last week that at a recent Information for Development Conference held in Barbados the executive summary of a report prepared for the Information for Development Programme (Infodev) was quoted as stating that educational attainment was an important challenge for the region and that there was a popular misconception that the skill level in the Caribbean was Å’relatively highâ€š.
This is to be contrasted with an article entitled ‘UNICEF: All Bajans Can Readâ€š – Monday 12, January-2004 by Tony Best which stated for the first time in the nationâ€šs history, Barbados has attained the cherished goal of having every adult being able to read and write. Just as important for future generations and for the growth and development of the country in the 21st century every primary school age child is in the classroom. I believe that this is the sort of statement that can induce complacency.
The Infodev report, however, went on to conclude that tertiary enrollment was the regionâ€šs biggest educational weaknessâ€š and despite the fact that countries like Barbados, the Bahamas and the Dominican republic have more than 20% of its youth attending university, the Eastern Caribbean states average a meagre 2%.
The Infodev paper charged that with many structural disadvantages, Caribbean economies should focus on premium niche segments, even in tourism, yet they persist in following low-cost strategies, despite the fact that their economies are clearly high cost.
According to the report, the major opportunity for the future of the Caribbean was in the transition to a service economy and towards niche manufacturing sectors that can supply high paying jobs. Arguing that the transition to niche manufacturing and high end services was not easy for economies without the necessary skill level, the report sought to use countries like Ireland as examples of emerging nations that had made successful transitions.
In addition, the report called for upgrading of knowledge and human capital as a means of increasing competitiveness, stressing that this should become an immediate priority of regional governments. It also called for regional universities to connect to the needs of the private sector, through manpower planning, to understand their demands on future employees.
The availability of support services and financing for startups, is almost non-existent in the region. The failure to deliver funds and technical capabilities to emerging sunriseâ€š enterprises is the largest impediment to their growth. CBET is addressing this challenge as it evolves into Phase 2 of its development.