Geocapabilities 3

Previously, the Geocapabilities 2 project has sought to apply a capabilities approach to a subject discipline, and in so doing to reposition the contribution of the discipline (Geography) to the education of young people. In phase three (Geocapabilties 3) a key objective is to extend the work completed in phase two by focusing on public (state-funded) schools serving young people living in less privileged social and economic circumstances, often the most challenging learning environments.


A capabilities approach repositions the contribution of the discipline (geography) to the education of young people within a capabilities framework. It derives from the original work of Amatya Sen and Martha Nussbaum on welfare economics and is an attempt to take capability principles and locate them within a geography education context.

Powerful disciplinary knowledge (PDK) is fundamental to the GeoCapabilities approach, yet teachers in more challenging schools have been found to be constrained in their ability to enact a ‘powerful’ curriculum which may transform young people’s lives (see Mitchell, 2015).

The intention of GeoCapabilities 3 is to support teachers in developing their curriculum making capacity and in so doing enable them to engage with important curriculum questions such as what kinds of geographical knowledge are taught in schools, who decides and why, and what kinds of pedagogies are needed to teach powerful disciplinary knowledge (PDK) to students.

Subject leadership is a key principle of GeoCapabilities and the project aims to develop the associate teachers as curriculum leaders who will support other geography teachers in similar contexts in their countries to use GeoCapabilities to enhance their geography teaching. Through developing curriculum leadership the project will generate a sustainable momentum, which will carry forward as the associate teachers work with other teachers in future, disseminating the GeoCapabilities approach.

GeoCapabilities 3 will be used as an educational conceptual tool for social justice. The project examines ways in which the approach can serve to counter the undermining of teachers’ curriculum making in schools situated specifically in areas of socio-economic deprivation.


The results of GeoCapabilities 3 will be:

IO2: A report developing strategies concerning how to support teachers in developing their own disciplinary knowledge for teaching geography, in a social justice context. This will be based on a small-scale survey of geography teachers working in schools regarded as being in challenging economic and social circumstances.

IO3: A report, which, through the analysis of case studies develops a set of pedagogical principles to underpin the practical application of PDK (Powerful Disciplinary Knowledge) in teaching and learning geography.

IO4: A publication (print and online) targeting geography teachers working in schools in challenging circumstances, supporting them in adopting a GeoCapabilities approach for social justice., created by collaborative writing opportunities between partners and participating teachers using evidence from StoryMaps.

The outcomes will include a set of pedagogical principles appropriate to teaching Powerful Disciplinary Knowledge in school geography. GeoCapabilities 3 encourages teachers to them to help develop the capacity of their students to think geographically and in so doing extend their personal capabilities and associated freedoms as articulated by Sen and Nussbaum, to think in ways that enable them to ‘discern, to select and to make informed and defensible choices’ (Lambert, 2014: 8).

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