The potential for refined capability models of practice that enhance participation in a socially just world

Year: 2019

Author: Harrison, James

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Capability is a popular holistic description of human practice and performance in contemporary professional and vocational education contexts.

Two descriptions of capability are widely recognised at the present time. One is focussed on individually focussed achievements; the other on how individuals can play their part in society at large.

The first description is closely linked to behavioural descriptions of practice identified as competency in the USA and developed by McClelland (1973)and later Boyatzis (1982)as the foundation of contemporary performance management and selection systems. This was further refined in UK vocational qualification developments based on functional descriptions of competence. These vocational qualification approaches were later adopted in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Their descriptions are both contextually and temporally specific.

A second description of capability was derived by an economist Sen (1993) as an alternative way of measuring the wellbeing of individuals in human societies. It was trying to describe their potential in terms of access to education, to work, to changes that enabled people to participate in society at large. These descriptions focussed on barriers that prevented individuals and therefore societies from realising their potential.

In reviewing the Australian system of competence based vocational education, Wheelahan & Moodie (2011) sought to enlarge the scope of Australian vocational qualifications by reference to Sen’s work by identifying the capacity for ongoing career development. Similarly, the UK and other jurisdictions have sought to future proof their qualifications by using role levels of description. However, the pace of modern progress is requiring more frequent qualification updates which is time consuming and expensive as well as missing emergent fields of practice.

PhD study by this author has found these capability descriptions lack the inclusion of explicit processes to describe continuing individual development. Building on a third area of capability work first explored by the UK Royal Society of Arts (Dame Diana Reader Harris & Caldecote, 1981), and later by Stephenson & Yorke (1998), his findings have identified that the processes of experiential learning, problem solving and research can fill the gap. If they make use of a common lexicon, they also offer the potential for enhancing individual capability expressed by Sen.

This paper explores the description and use of these developmental capabilities to show how education can help individuals maintain their contribution and relevance to a socially just world.