The concept of children’s capability commonly defined as the child’s “ability to” has been usually put forth as an idea by organizations and people who are responsible for the development of educational policies and their deployment at national, local and state levels as well. Child as capable is a concept that defines the fact that capability of a child is the basis of his/her development. The capability approach as defined by Amartya Sen when put forth for children defines a child’s competencies, well-being and freedom (Jun 2018). The idea should be to make the child capable of achieving well-being and freedom in his/her life. It should not be equated with functionality- the ability to function as perceived by adults. Education plays a key role in developing a child’s capability to achieve his/her well-being and develop competencies (Rajapakse 2016). This essay discusses how the capability approach of looking at education for children helps improve outcomes for children.
The young generation and children are more often than not completely excluded from making any kinds of decisions and are not participative in any decision-making process or able to make any choices for themselves (Hart et al. 2018). But, taking into account their agency, responsibility, participation and well being together as a part of empowering them and making them “capable” is quite helpful in making them inclusive to the decision making. The capability approach looks at this idea and talks about giving agency to the child and reorganise education and the way it is approached to make it more inclusive and better. It does not only talk about access to education for children as its main aspect, but also focuses upon individual freedoms of children via and through education (Rajapakse 2016).
The capability approach defines a child’s capability as a combination of the potential to achieve along with actual functioning (actual doing of the task) (Jun 2018). Both of them together will define a person’s capability and approach to life. The idea is to use this combination to convert the given potential and functioning into substantial output which are ways of being and doing, that they have reason to value. The same inputs and opportunities will be converted into different outputs, functioning and freedoms based on the individual’s capabilities which will vary from person to person. Similar is the case with education- both, teaching and learning where even the same kind of approach to education and educational resources by the children will still yield different results for different children based on their own “capabilities” and the approach with which they utilized their educational resources (Frediani et al. 2019).
Another approach to capability concept talks about leaving aside children’s inabilities and incapacities and address them as responsible agents of change and choosers (Biggeri et al. 2014). It looks at children being able to develop their competencies and language skills and express their concerns about their own well-being and agency achievement. However, the approach poses a dilemma about how children cannot talk about their own best interests’ without adult supervision. There exists this push and pull amongst the theorists whether children are capable enough to take their own decisions or not (Biggeri at al. 2014).
It is also mentioned that when the capability approach is applied to children, it is assumed that children possess the capacity for self-determination on their own. If children’s freedom and participation is encouraged now, it will help better ensure the development of a full set of capabilities for them when they grow up (Frediani et al. 2019). The argument exists for children being a lot more competent and capable than what they are credited for by the adults. Examples include a pilot at 16 years of age, a swimmer at 12 years of age, a kayaker at 13 years of age etc. This happens due to the encouragement and participation of children in their childhood, which leads to an account for their own dreams, values, aspirations and priorities as well. However, at times they might forgo their own well-being, knowingly or unknowingly (Ballet at al. 2011). Thus, giving birth to the dilemma if the child’s right to choose based on the capacity and capability of the child will have a negative cost or not. This may arise the question, if the agency of freedom based on capabilities of the child harm the achievements of the child and the people associated with him/her or not. To ensure this balance between freedom and achievement, there needs to be proper guidance for children to help them in their skill development and education (Hart et al. 2012).
A capability based approach in teaching and learning should be adopted in order to improve and assess the quality of education provided in terms of participation and empowerment of the learner (Hart et al. 2012). Looking beyond and outside the parameters of traditional examination, ability to retain and rote learning to assess a child’s capability is suggestive while teaching and learning. Certain basic capabilities need to be fostered from the beginning which will act like a base for the provision of any kind of freedom (Rajapakse 2016). For example, practical reasoning needs to be developed and fostered for the development of critical reasoning and thinking in the child. Education can help develop reasoning ability, critical thinking and moral reasoning by shifting the focus from subject knowledge to pave ways for developing competencies that will help ensure capabilities in the child (Hart et al. 2018).
The essay discussed the different approaches of looking at the child as capable and the capabilities concept and approach to education. The approach discusses the development of the capabilities and capacities in the child which will help protect the well-being, agency and freedom of the child and help in achievements as well. A change in the way we approach teaching and learning in education is required to help build capabilities in children instead of mere functioning. A paradigm shift in the approach, policy and outlook of how we look at education needs to take place at both local and national level in order to bring about this change.
Ballet, J., Biggeri, M. and Comim, F. 2011. Children’s agency and the capability approach: A conceptual framework. Children and the Capability Approach (pp. 22-45). Palgrave Macmillan, London.
Biggeri, M. and Karkara, R. 2014. Transforming children’s rights into real freedom: a dialogue between children’s rights and the capability approach from a life cycle perspective. Children’s Rights and the Capability Approach (pp. 19-41).
Frediani, A.A., Clark, D.A. and Biggeri, M. 2019. Human development and the capability approach: the role of empowerment and participation. The Capability Approach, Empowerment and Participation (pp. 3-36). Palgrave Macmillan, London.
Hart, C.S. and Brando, N. 2018. A capability approach to children's well‐being, agency and participatory rights in education. European Journal of Education, 53(3), pp.293-309.
Hart, C.S. 2012. The capability approach and education. Cambridge Journal of Education, 42(3), pp.275-282.
Jun, D. 2018. The Implication of Amartya Sen'Capability Theor. Journal of Human Rights, (2), p.15.
Rajapakse, N. 2016. Amartya Sen’s capability approach and education: Enhancing social justice. Revue LISA/LISA e-journal. Littératures, Histoire des Idées, Images, Sociétés du Monde Anglophone–Literature, History of Ideas, Images and Societies of the English-speaking World, 14(1).
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