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Applying a Capabilities Approach to
Cross Curricular Priorities for Students
with Disabilities
Dr Deborah Price
University of South Australia
ACSA Darwin, September, 2013
Applying a Capabilities Approach to
Cross Curriculum Priorities for Students
with Disabilities
 The Australian Curriculum is for all
 Aim: To apply the capabilities approach of Amartya Sen
(1985) and Martha Nussbaum (2003) as a powerful
theoretical framework.
 Apply Nussbaum’s 10 Central Human Capabilities as a
benchmark against which to assess how the learning
needs of students with disabilities are being met in the
national curriculum.
 The cross-curriculum priorities are used as a case study
Setting the scene
 Initial invisibility of SWD in
Australian Curriculum
 Curriculum content for SWD should
have been part of the overarching
blueprint for the development of
the national curriculum
(Muskovitis, 2010, p.51).
 Making the curriculum accessible
after the fact;
 time consuming
 challenging for the team
 beneficial to only a small
number of children at a given
time or within an activity
(Lieber, Horn, Palmer and
Fleming, 2008, p.20)
 Amendments to draft curriculum
materials and shaping papers
 Overarching statements addressing
student diversity including SWD
 Consultation reference groups
 Extending literacy capability
continuum (1a to 1e)
 Explicit teaching and learning
examples in English, Maths, Science
and History learning areas
Students with Disability paper was
open for public consultation in
 Student Diversity and the
Australian Curriculum, Advice for
principals, schools and teachers
released in January 2013
Including Students with Disabilities
in the Cross Curriculum Priorities
 How will the cross curriculum priorities inclusively address the needs
of SWD?;
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures
Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia
 The cross curriculum priorities are designed to embed in all learning
areas, contemporary and relevant issues in the lives of students to
equip them with the skills, knowledge and understandings to prosper
in a globalized world and contribute to the social, intellectual and
creative capital of the nation (ACARA).
 The cross curriculum priorities may be addressed for SWD through
applying Sen and Nussbaum’s Central Capability approach
Applying the Central
Capabilities approach for SWD
 Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum advance a
capabilities approach whereby securing a right to
someone requires more than the absence of negative
state actions.
 Focusing from the start on what people are actually able
to do and be therefore places you well to foreground and
address inequalities (Nussbaum, 2003).
 Individuals need to be in a position of capability to
function for rights to be secured.
 Capabilities are distinct from functioning; they focus on
what a person is or actually chooses to do, the set of
alternatives they have…real opportunities. ..real choices
(Anand et al. 2005).
Central Human Capabilities
10 Central Capabilities
Australian Curriculum
 Life
 Bodily health
 Bodily integrity
 Senses, imagination and thought
 Emotions
 Practical reason
 Affiliation
 Other species
 Play
 Control over one’s environment.
(Nussbaum, 2003)
 So how can SWD
entitlements to the ten
capabilities be applied to
the Cross Curriculum
Sustainability and central capabilities
Sustainability addresses the ongoing capacity of Earth to maintain all
life and promotes sustainability through individual and collective
actions. They necessitate a renewed and balanced approach to the
way humans interact with each other and the environment (ACARA).
Central Capability
Systems: Organising Idea
Being able to live life, affiliate, have control
over one’s environment through direct
interaction with their ecosystem
Systems OI.2 that all life forms, including
human life, are connected through ecosystems
on which they depend for their wellbeing and
Opportunities to live with, interact, recognise
and show concern for others including
humans, animals, plants and nature
promotes affiliation and other species
Development of emotions, attachments to
things and people; to love those for care for
them, experience longing, gratitude and
justified anger
Play, to laugh, to play, to enjoy recreational
Systems OI.3 identifying how sustainable
patterns of living rely on the interdependence
of healthy social, economic and ecological
Sustainability and central capabilities
Central Capability
Worldviews: Organising Idea
Awareness of the interrelations
between the ecosystem and capacity of
bodily health through providing
adequate shelter and nourishment
Capacity of bodily integrity, being able
to move about securely from place to
place free from discrimination,
judgement and possible assault
Worldviews OI.4 recognise the
dependence of living things on healthy
ecosystems, and value diversity and social
justice as essential for achieving
Practical reason to be able to
understand the concept of good and
engage in critical reflection about one’s
Worldviews OI.5 forming world views
through personal experiences
Sustainability and central capabilities
Central Capability
Futures: Organising Idea
Senses, imagination and thought.
Freedom of speech, choice and
imagination is important in gaining
perspectives of the world.
Futures-oriented, focusing on protecting
environments and creating a more
ecologically and socially just world
through informed action.
Educational practices which engages
with all senses of SWD can further elicit
futures thinking and actions which can
contribute to more ecological and
socially just worlds
Actions that support more sustainable
patterns of living require consideration of
environmental, social, cultural and
economic systems and their
Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander histories and cultures
ACARA describes how ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are
strong, rich and diverse. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Identity is central to
this priority and is intrinsically linked to living, learning Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander communities, deep knowledge traditions and holistic world view’.
Central Capability
Country/Place: Organising Idea
Control over one’s environment,
affiliation and other species : Being able
to imagine situations of others, concern
and respect for others and their sense of
place, as well as the importance of
connecting with other species including
places, animals, plants and nature
Country/Place OI.1; OI.2; OI.3 elements of
knowledge of the two distinct Indigenous
groups, connection to and responsibility
of country and place and spiritual
connections to land, sea, sky and
Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander histories and cultures
Central Capability
Country/Place: Organising Idea
Practical reason, senses, imagination
and thought, are possible avenues for
SWD to explore ways of being, knowing,
thinking and doing
Culture OI.5 explore how Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander people’s ways of life
are uniquely expressed through ways of
being, knowing, thinking and doing
Central Capability
People: Organising Idea
Life, bodily integrity, emotions, practical
reason, and affiliation opportunity to
explore the productivity of all Australian
society members and how each and
every one can contribute to society in
many ways, when society creates the
conditions for them to do so
People OI.8; OI.9 understanding
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
people, their family, kinship structures
and societal contributions
Asia and Australia’s engagement
with Asia
‘Underpins the capacity of Australian students to be active and informed citizens
working together to build harmonious local, regional and global communities,
and build Australia’s social, intellectual and creative capital. It also builds
understanding of the diversity of cultures and peoples living in Australia, fosters
social inclusion and cohesion and is vital to the prosperity of Australia’.
Central Capability
Asia and its diversity: Organising Idea
Affiliation provides opportunity for SWD to
live with, interact and respect other people
and countries
Asia and its diversity OI.1: live with, interact
and respect other people and countries
aligning with traditions, cultures, belief systems
and religions
Other species and interrelationships between
humans and diverse environments
Asia and its diversity OI.2 interrelationships
between humans and diverse environments
Through applying practical reason, SWD can
be encouraged to understand achievements
and contributions of others and appreciation
for the arts and literature
Asia and its diversity; Form a conception of
achievements and contributions of the peoples
of Asia (OI.3), including art and literature (OI.4)
Asia and Australia’s engagement
with Asia
Central Capability
Asia-Australia engagement: Organising
Affiliation through collaboration and
Asia-Australia engagement OI.5:
engagement with people and
Collaboration and engagement with the
attachment to people outside of oneself peoples of Asia
through the emotions capabilities
contribute to the notion of citizenship
Concluding thoughts and
 Potential for applying Martha Nussbaum’s ten central
capabilities as a foundational benchmark for which all
students including SWD can live a life of dignity…this
includes education
 Curriculum developers and educators shared conception,
which promotes what students with disabilities can do
and be…..provide opportunity
 The central capabilities, provide opportunity for SWD to
engage in the cross curriculum priorities
 Through a capabilities lens, educators can focus from the
start on what SWD are actually able to do and be and to
empower individuals to be in a position of capability in
order to function (Nussbaum, 2003).
 Future initiatives address the cross curriculum
perspectives and how SWD are provided with
opportunity given seemingly mainstream benchmarks
and expectations.
 Elaborations for educators on how SWD can achieve the
essential knowledge, understandings and skills of cross
curriculum priorities…..given these are deemed
‘essential’ for all students.
 To apply a capabilities focus on people, giving them
opportunities to achieve various lifestyles and live a
good life and less on goals and accumulation of
resources (Anand, Hunter & Smith, 2005).
 Anand, P., Hunter, G., & Smith, R. (2005). Capabilities and
Wellbeing, Social Indicators Research, 74(1), 9-55.
 Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA)
2011, Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority,
viewed April 4 2013, <
 Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA)
2012, ‘Draft Australian Curriculum materials for students with
disability’, Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting
Authority, NSW.
 Lieber, J., Horn,E., Palmer, S. & Fleming,K. (2008). Access to the
general education curriculum for preschoolers with disabilities:
Children’s school success. Exceptionality, 16, 18-32.
 Muskovitis, J. (2010). ‘False Start?’, Teacher, 214, 50-53.
 Nussbaum, M. C. (2003). Capabilities as fundamental entitlements.
SEN and social justice. Feminist Economics, 9(2-3), 22-59.
 Nussbaum, M.C. (2006a). Creating Capabilities: the Human
Developmental Approach. Chptr 2 The Central Capabilities,

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