An application of Nussbaum’s capabilities approach in a critical review of the education policies and governance of secondary schools in Saudi Arabia

Algraini, Saad (1); McIntyre-Mills, Janet (2) (2016). 'An application of Nussbaum’s capabilities approach in a critical review of the education policies and governance of secondary schools in Saudi Arabia' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.

abstract This case study of both public and private schools in Saudi Arabia is drawn from a PhD project designed to contribute to the understanding of human development in education. The research defines human development in education in terms of students’ ability to achieve their learning goals as well as to maximise their human potential. The study draws on the ‘capabilities approach’ (Nussbaum, 2011) in analysing policies and governance challenges faced by the Ministry of Education in Saudi Arabia. Nussbaum’s capabilities approach to human development is applied in order to address the complex needs of students and staff pertaining to the ten basic capabilities, including basic physical needs, educational content and context, and social empowerment. Participants in the study are students, teachers, heads of schools, policy officers in education departments, and policy makers in the Ministry of Education. The research design includes the collection of data from public and private schools for boys and girls in two provinces in Saudi Arabia. A range of qualitative methods is used in the research, including documentary review, interviews, focus groups, and field notes.   This paper pays special attention to the process and content of education in order to critically investigate the development of students’ capabilities and the extent to which the educational outcomes are able to produce well-rounded graduates. Nussbaum’s capabilities approach provides a holistic theory upon which to support policies for human development. For instance, Nussbaum (2011) acknowledges reasoning, sense, imagination, and thought as part of the ten central capabilities. However, Nussbaum’s approach remains quite general in building a basic threshold for human dignity that could be applied in different contexts. In the educational context, specific information is needed about the students’ capabilities to think and imagine in ways that influence their learning and their lives; critical pedagogy is used to provide such information. According to Giroux (2011), critical pedagogy is concerned with thinking about how education empowers people to be critical and active participants in the development process. Thus, this paper draws on critical pedagogy to highlight key issues that arise in learning at the school level. Participants in schools have expressed concerns about passive forms of education and the relevance of the curriculum in a centralised learning system. The recommendation made in this paper is that the current governance system should provide better opportunities for students and teachers to share their perspectives to facilitate better accountability across public and private schools so that equitable learning outcomes could be obtained across genders. In addition, centralised grading systems should reward creative teaching and learning that goes beyond the limits of the curriculum, rewarding critical engagement that fosters lifelong learning capabilities. This research is funded by the Saudi government, and it has been approved by the Social and Behavioural Research Ethics Committee of Flinders University, South Australia (project number 6169). 

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