Extending capabilities theory through reflexive pedagogical practices

Wilson-Strydom, Merridy; Crosbie, Veronica; Calitz, Talita; Kant Jha, Krishna (2014). 'Extending capabilities theory through reflexive pedagogical practices' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, 2-5 September 2014, Athens, Greece.

Each of the four papers making up this panel addresses the topic of pedagogic practice within a university setting from a capabilities perspective, and uses the findings to expand on capabiliites theory in the context of higher education. The four authors/presenters draw on their research and higher education experience across three diverse national contexts: India, Ireland and South Africa.

The abstracts of the four papers are presented below. 


Building educational resilience through a focus on students' capabilities for success

Merridy Wilson-Strydom

Education has always played a central role in human development and the capabilities approach. There has also been a growing focus on the importance of higher education for human development (Boni and Walker, 2013) and for building democratic societies (Nussbaum 2010). However, for the human development potential of higher education to be realised, it is critical that injustices operating within higher education itself are addressed. Widening access or participation in higher education is one arena in which injustices of various types remain particularly pronounced. Not only do patterns of access reflect societal inequalities, so too do patterns of achievement and success. This paper draws on research focused on university access in South Africa, as a case study of the global South, to argue that a capabilities informed pedagogy is critical for building the educational resilience of students who are highly vulnerable to poor performance and drop out. The paper demonstrates how a list of capabilities for success provides an important pedagogic entry point for enhancing educational resilience among vulnerable first-year students.


Learning to live in a disruptive world: critical capabilities in higher education

Veronica Crosbie

The capabilities approach offers a valuable analytical lens for exploring the challenges and complexity of living in a disruptive world. In a European context, this includes learning to develop capabilities for negotiating competing value systems in contemporary multicultural settings. Universities have the potential to respond to these times of crisis, and are encouraged to do so (Boni and Walker 2013) from an ethical perspective based on social justice. In this paper, I elaborate on some of the disruptive issues at play in contemporary multicultural Ireland, including migration, asylum-seeking, and marginalisation leading to social exclusion. I explore ways in which these issues are being dealt with through pedagogical practice, leading potentially to transformative ways of thinking and acting in the world. Student journal narratives are analysed to see to what extent their understanding of the complexity of multicultural life is being developed, focusing on issues such as Travellers, a marginalised group in Ireland that has been denied ethnic status to date. The study develops doctoral work in which a set of capabilities was generated, reflecting nascent development of global identities. This paper seeks to continue this research by exploring capabilities for responding to our disruptive world in rich and transformative ways.


Operationalizing a capabilities-friendly pedagogy in higher education

Talita Calitz

The capabilities approach offers an evaluative framework which scholars can use to judge how conditions are enabling or constraining equal access to and participation in education (Walker 2006). The capabilities approach should extend this evaluative function to inform social action (Deneulin 2014), including the role of universities in creating more just and equitable societies. South Africa's low participation, high attrition system results in unequal development of capability freedom and opportunities for functioning for many students.  Universities' pedagogy and curricula should play a pivotal role in creating more just societies where opportunities for well-being and human development are conceivable for an increased number of university graduates. This paper presents empirical research from an action research study in which a capabilities pedagogy was applied as part of a broader project exploring agentic student identities. The paper illustrates the important shifts that occur when an operationalization of capabilities-friendly pedagogy, which prioritizes the well-being, freedom and agency of students, is applied to teaching and learning arrangements.


Economic Opportunities and Gender Differences: Experimental Evidence from Indian Universities

Krishna Kant Jha

The old saying 'caring for a daughter is like watering another's tree' reflects the historic view that investing in the education of girls is a waste of resources because she will be lost to another family through marriage. This study of four higher education institutions in Darbhangā in Bihar, north eastern India suggests that this situation is changing in Bihar with contemporary views of girls' education varying from the traditional belief that it is a luxury to its being a need and a right. It is generally accepted that education facilitates the employability of women but women and men typically have different interpretations of what it enables beyond this.  Women talk of education and employment as a way of escaping the bonds of tradition leading to greater independence, confidence and self-worth.  Men typically see the greater employability of women in terms of financial benefits, particularly as a supplement to household income, and a means of reifying traditional domestic structures. This study shows that women do want to make use of their higher education to secure greater independence, including financial independence, but that they are willing to forsake this within traditional domestic structures.  That is, marriage marks the adaptation of their preferences. The paper argues that the pedagogy adopted in Indian Universities is far from developing students' capability, particularly for women students, and that there is a need for training of university teachers so that they are better equipped to challenge students' beliefs through cultural education.

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