Hart, Caroline Sarojini (2017). 'Education, Capabilities and Sustainable Development' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Cape Town 2017.
Education, Capabilities and Sustainable Development
This paper aims, from a capability approach perspective, to situate education in relation to the global post-2015 agenda for sustainable development. It argues that educational processes potentially have important roles in contributing to many of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and not only those specifically related to education (United Nations, 2015). Although SDG Goal 4 is specific to education, other SDGs can also be seen to have significant connections to education, for example, SDG 1 aims to end poverty in all its forms everywhere and SDG 5 aims to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls (UN, 2015, 15/35-18/35). In addition, education of mothers in particular, has been linked to improved maternal health and reduced infant mortality (Sen, 1999), linked to SDG 3 to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all ages. Goals to promote peaceful, inclusive societies (SDG 16) could also be supported by educational curricula, teaching practices and building educational institutional cultures supportive of living peacefully in partnership with diverse groups. Education related to sustainable ways of living has potential to contribute towards SDG’s 12-15 (covering sustainable consumption, climate change, sustainable use of land and water-based resources). Sen has argued there are essentially three roles of capabilities, those directly relevant to individual well-being and freedom; those indirectly involved in influencing social change and those indirectly involved in influencing economic production (Sen, 1999, pp.296-297). This paper proposes that education can be seen in the same way, with the potential to support individual well-being freedom, with potential to influence social change (encouraging social participation and critical agency), and potential to influence economic production (developing an educated populace with potential to contribute to and drive economic production).
The discussion goes on to conceptualise the ways in which personal goals and wider social and development goals are juxtaposed and the tensions this brings in thinking about personal and social ‘trade-offs’ in developing and pursuing goals for human development. Arguably there is a role for education in addressing many concerns related to sustainable human development. But can this be equated with expanding individual freedoms? Might there be occasions where education could be called upon to develop values, skills and knowledge that aim to serve humanity more broadly and not (only) the interests of the individuals being educated? In other words, should we guard against individualizing the pursuit of freedom to such an extent that it overshadows the pursuit of collective values and action to protect and sustain our planetary home? On the other hand, is it fair to ask individuals, possibly living in extreme poverty, to act in more sustainable ways now, possibly limiting their freedoms, in order to safeguard future generations? We can see there is potentially some tension between personal, social, economic and wider development goals.
A new formulation of an individual’s capability set is presented to show the way that some capabilities may be expanded and others contracted, due to complex conversion factors. The paper concludes by arguing that educational processes may contribute significantly towards the development of individual capabilities and sustainable development more broadly, but this cannot be taken for granted due to negative as well as positive outcomes from educational processes, trade-offs and sacrifices along the way.
Sen, A. (1999) Development as Freedom (Oxford, Oxford University Press).
Sen, A. (2002) India: Development and Participation (Oxford, Oxford University Press).
United Nations (2015) Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 25 September 2015, Seventieth Session agenda items 15 & 116, A/RES/70/1, 21 October.
Key words: capability approach, education, sustainable development goals, trade-offs