The Relationship between the Capability Approach and Action Research in the Context of Primary School Leadership in Ghana.

Fertig, Michael (2012). "The Relationship between the Capability Approach and Action Research in the Context of Primary School Leadership in Ghana." Paper presented at the 9th annual conference of the HDCA, 5-7 September 2012, Jakarta, Indonesia.

The relationship between the Capability Approach, as developed by Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum among others, and Action Research is a fundamental one, in that both have a core focus on action as a means to social improvement. A central element here is Nussbaum’s concern that ‘the crucial good [that] societies should be promoting for their people is a set of opportunities, or substantial freedoms, which people then may or may not exercise in action: the choice is theirs’ (Nussbaum, 2011, p 18). The importance placed here on ‘action’ in order to achieve that which is regarded as ‘valuable’ relates directly to the view taken by Kurt Lewin in the 1940s when he presented an Action Research approach to problem solving. My argument is that, through an emphasis upon Action Research, school leaders can move from a position where they have ‘capabilities’ (or potential) to take action to improve pupil learning towards a position where they can provide evidence of ‘functionings’ (or actions) which can improve pupil learning within their schools. In this sense, Action Research acts as a kind of vector which enables the conversion of ‘capabilities’ into ‘functionings’. This notion builds on the Aristotelian view of ‘phronesis’ or ‘practical philosophy’, in which individuals are able, through practical reasoning, to act in ways which cultivate virtue and which are of moral value (Carr, 2004; Eikeland, 2006). My paper will examine the Capability Approach within the context of education, with specific reference to its relationship to primary school leadership in Ghana. This builds upon my involvement in the DfID-funded EdQual Project (2005-2010) which resulted in work which looked at the relationship between primary school leaders and social justice within Ghana and Tanzania (Bosu et al, 2011). This Project was concerned with examining factors which could impact upon the learning of pupils attending schools located in challenging contexts in these two countries. The spotlight on these factors mirrors the increasing emphasis, within discussions about the Millennium Development Goals, upon moving the debate on from calls for ‘Education for All’ towards an agenda which foregrounds ‘Learning for All’ (International Bank for Reconstruction & Development/World Bank, 2011). Linked to this, my conference paper will develop ideas focused on ways in which school leader capabilities can be converted, through the use of an Action Research approach, into functionings which aid the learning of pupils (Fertig, forthcoming).
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