Capability Approach and Schooling in a Plural Context: A Critical Ethnography of a Public School in Kerala – India

Varghese, Charles (2016). 'Capability Approach and Schooling in a Plural Context: A Critical Ethnography of a Public School in Kerala – India' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.

abstract The paper is a product of a critical ethnographic study conducted in a government school in the state of Kerala, India which is attended by both indigenous and non-indigenous students. The paper aims to outline some broad considerations for enhancing Capabilities and Freedom in schooling especially in a plural social context. Schooling in a plural social context has always been a challenge but most of the times our institutions are hardly prepared to address this challenge in their value system, functions and aims. Students coming from different social, economic and cultural dispositions are confronted with one-sided preferences for certain cultural systems which gives privileges to some groups. This demands critical questions about the aims of education and design of schooling.  As far as the  aims of education in a plural context are concerned questions like, whether the child is prepared to see and value resources and values from his/her own environment? Is s/he given adequate facilities to explore the world outside his/her own immediate environment? Whether they are trained to explore multiple ways and means to experience knowledge? Did the school allow different kinds of knowledge to be discussed not only through the standard curriculum but also through a pedagogic practice which invites the stakeholders to construct knowledge through dialogue, are pertinent to ask. In an indigenous context the mainstream schooling has always been a challenge on many counts. Very often indigenous communities were blamed for the slow progress in the school achievements because the questions are emanated out of the frame that seeks to know ‘why indigenous people failed’ to gain from schooling? Many times such questions were influenced by social Darwinistic presumptions of linear social change and insensitive to the plurality of life and possibilities. However a shift of frame that seeks ‘why did our mainstream ‘schools fail to address the educational aspirations of indigenous people’ can lead to entirely different answers.  This will enable us to re-visit the design of school to analyse whether they are equipped to address the questions posed in the beginning.    Capability Approach with its focus on agency and freedom is an effective theoretical formulation in evoking concrete functionalities in the context of schooling. This enables us to transcend the measure of achievement in indigenous education from mere enrolment to actual school process. In the first part, this paper aims to illuminate on the ‘potential capabilities’ of schooling in a plural social context. Along with this, how ‘practical reason’ is exercised within the school and in the social context where school is situated and its influence on deciding the ‘desired capabilities’ is also explored.  In the second part the actual school processes that facilitates Capabilities Building /Capability Destroying is explored through a critical enquiry on various aspects of schooling ie; school as an institution, curriculum and pedagogic practices in school and informal social process that exists in the school. 

scroll to top