Children’s Capabilities and Education Inequality – How Types of Schooling Play a Role in Pakistan

Ansari, Amna (1); Comim, Flavio (1,2) (2016). 'Children’s Capabilities and Education Inequality – How Types of Schooling Play a Role in Pakistan' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.

Children’s Capabilities and Education Inequality – How Types of Schooling Play a Role in Pakistan
Amna Ansari, Flavio Comim
This research is an application of the Capabilities Approach to a southern educational context, aiming to answer how children’s capabilities differ across different types of schooling (public, private and religious) in Pakistan. Children deserve an active role in human development, and their capabilities are a consequence of social interaction and receptiveness within households and broader environments (Biggeri, Ballet and Comim, 2011)[1]. While work on capabilities and education provides new ways of thinking about one such environment i.e. schools, it leaves a wide range of issues unanswered or unexamined at the same time (Unterhalter and Walker, 2007, p.239)[2]. Thus, a lot remains to be done to develop a thorough, in-depth analysis of the potential application of a capability perspective to education (Hart, 2012, p.278)[3] and consequently, schooling. The given research reduces this void in several ways.
Firstly, it directs attention to the role, process and content of education by drawing comparisons of children’s educational capabilities not just within but across different school types. Secondly, it weaves the gap between the ‘capabilities’ and ‘human capital’ approaches to education as pointed by Nussbaum (2011, p.193)[4] by providing a capability counterpart to certain cognitive and non-cognitive skills in education. Thirdly, it demonstrates possible ways in which integrated policy analysis may be achieved in a capabilities research by combining inputs from various stakeholders such as schools, children and parents. And finally, it emphasizes the importance of historical and cultural contexts in applying the CA to issues of education in diverse research situations e.g. by understanding education inequality in Pakistan in relation to its unique colonial past/ evolution of parallel education systems, and making use of capability valuations in education by participants across them. By employing the Capabilities Approach in this manner, the study explores a broader perspective than most conventional studies on education in Pakistan, often limited to a single social aspect in education like gender or religion; economic returns to education; or qualitative differences in public and private provision.
Since the use of capabilities with respect to different school systems in Pakistan is an innovative research area, it justifies the choice of a mixed-methods (exploratory) research design with sequential data collection. The first phase (qualitative) comprises focus groups with children and their parents aimed at balancing universal lists of educational capabilities with local insights from participants. The second phase (quantitative) involves a capabilities questionnaire for children built using both theoretical and local valuations, as well as a household survey to obtain richer information on each child participant. The choice of complementary research tools ensures richness of data and rigor in conducting the mixed methods study. The study’s findings discuss (i) how children’s capabilities vary with schooling type in Pakistan, and (ii) what individual, household and school factors can explain such variation.
The proposed academic paper for the conference addresses several suggested themes, such as Diversity in Early Childhood Experiences – Forming Human Capability; Diversity and Education – Comparing Local, National and Global Policies; Methodological Issues in Operationalizing the CA; and Capability Measurement and Empirical Analysis. This is because the given research occupies the Capabilities Approach at several levels. It
i)              engages theoretical concepts in the Approach (including merits and challenges), and their application to diverse research contexts,
ii)             discusses methodological challenges in operationalizing the Capabilities Approach e.g. the identification, measurement and modeling of capabilities in a broader framework of education inequality,
iii)            extends the use of the Approach to designing survey instruments like a capabilities questionnaire for primary school-going children and accompanying household survey, and
iv)            offers insights into the relevance of the Capabilities Approach to issues of human development (particularly children’s) in light of given research findings.
Key Words: Children, Capabilities Approach, Education, Inequality, Pakistan
[1] Biggeri, M., Ballet, J. and Comim, F. (2011). Children and the Capability Approach. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave MacMillan.
[2] Unterhalter, E. and Walker, M. (2007). Conclusion: Capabilities, Social Justice and Education. In Unterhalter, E. and Walker, M. (Eds). (2007). Amartya Sen’s Capability Approach and Social Justice in Education, pp.239-253.
[3] Hart, C.S. (2012). The Capability Approach and Education. Cambridge Journal of Education, 42 (3), pp.275-282.
[4] Nussbaum, M. (2011). Creating Capabilities. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

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