Enframing curriculum: the contradictory messages of a capabilities approach to Australian school education

Year: 2013

Author: Skourdoumbis, Andrew

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

An emerging education policy slant in Australia involves a capabilities approach to school education. Development of the Australian Curriculum has incorporated ‘general capabilities’ as essential markers of schooling. Of specific interest for this paper is that any pedagogical expression of classroom based practice including subsequent instruction entail the identification and development of general capabilities. Indeed, the seven general capabilities of Literacy, Numeracy, ICT, Critical and creative thinking, Personal and social capability, Ethical understanding and Intercultural understanding are deemed the crucial and obligatory twenty first century knowledge, skills, behaviours and dispositions for success. The paper questions and critiques a policy-making direction of curriculum development that uses capabilities purely in functionalist terms, something that the broader capabilities literature eschews. The paper uses a qualitative research approach informed by critical theory to examine ACARA’s (2013) General Capabilities in Australian Curriculum. It is argued that such documents communicate a settled neo-liberal account of the curriculum’s connection to individual and national economic prosperity. Yet rising evidence, particularly about current populous forms and categories of employment from Australia and elsewhere, seems to suggest that the functional capabilities listed in the Australian Curriculum are perhaps not enough to enhance the employment prospects of individuals in terms of ‘high skill’ occupations in contemporary economic and political times.