Grupos de Investigación

The Capabilities Approach and Education: A Literature Overview and a Comprehensive List Proposal

  • Alysson Lorenzon Portella (Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brasil)
  • Ana Flavia Machado (Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brasil)
  • Gilvan Ramalho Guedes (Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brasil)
The objective of this article is twofold. First, it overviews the literature on education within the framework of the Capabilities Approach, specially addressing some potential limitations in Amartya Sen's work in relation to his account of education. As it is clear from the literature, it is argued that Sen does not explore as deeply as possible all the possibilities that the CA can bring to the assessment of education. Particularly, it can be noticed that his account of education is primarily concerned with basic schooling, neglecting how pedagogies, practices, and the context can affect people differently. In a second moment, the very own literature on education and capabilities is assessed, based on the work of Rosie Vaughan. In one of her contributions, Vaughan proposed that there are two domains in which education can be evaluated through the lens of the Capabilities Approach. On the one hand, we have capabilities to access education, which account for those functioning and capabilities that enable students to fully participate in the educational process. On the other hand, she calls attention to capabilities through education, i.e., capabilities that are gained through the educational process, e.g., better qualification for the job market and democratic citizenship. In this sense, the capabilities and functionings related to each of these domains encompass different aspects of people's lives, and the evaluation of well-being, achievement, freedom, and agency will vary according to which aspect the researcher is interested on. The present paper argues that the lists of capabilities currently developed in the literature have not yet taken into account this useful division provided by Vaughan, mixing up many facets of education that could be more interestingly analysed by means of her classification. Finally, with the objective of dealing with this limitation and drawing on the various contributions in the same literature that has been evaluated, a dual list of capabilities is proposed for a comprehensive assessment of education. The first part deals with the capabilities to access education, and include schooling infrastructure, the society's and family's ability to maintain children in school, respect for student diversity, safety issues, and student's agency. The second part of the list is concerned with capabilities gained through education, and include capabilities and functionings that can contribute in many aspects of people's lives: their democratic existence, their practical reasoning, the development of economic capabilities, and the acquisition of knowledge that may contribute directly or indirectly to the student's well-being. The list is constructed in a rather abstract and comprehensive manner, following the approach of Martha Nussbaum, so that it can be applied to specific contexts with the selection of particular capabilities and functionings that are linked with the dimensions proposed.
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