Capital and capabilities in education: Re-examining Australia’s 2015 PISA performance and context assessment framework

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Policy Futures in Education, 2019, 17 (5), pp. 599 - 617
Issue Date:
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© The Author(s) 2018. This paper offers a conceptual framework that combines Sen’s concept of capability and Bourdieu’s forms of capital to understand the generative mechanisms of educational advantage or disadvantage. The paper illustrates some ways that the Sen–Bourdieu framework can be applied to understand the Programme for International Student Assessment 2015 results and measures of educational contexts for Australia. The Programme for International Student Assessment 2015 results indicated that students’ socioeconomic background and student-level and school-level factors affect their educational performance. Guided by the proposed framework, the paper explains some of these effects and the contexts in which they occur. It suggests educational disadvantages are attributable to economic capital and other forms of capital within broader structural, representational and relational contexts of schooling practices. The implications for improving equity in education are to recognise forms of capital that enable or limit students’ educational capabilities, identify contexts and schooling practices in which such enablers or limitations occur, and improve opportunities as well as processes in schools in ways that secure students’ differences and uniqueness.
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