A capabilities approach

Capability is usually defined as ‘the ability to do something’.

The dictionary also says that capability is also a quality or a state of being, and that capability implies the potential to further develop.

The capabilities approach was originally based on an economic theory. You can find out more about the background to capabilities here.

Capabilities can be used to conceptualise the ‘educated person’. In this article, The capability approach and education, capabilities embodies ‘the substantive freedoms’ a person has ‘to lead the kind of life he or she has reason to value’.

GeoCapabilities is particularly interested in the school curriculum (especially teaching Geography). Schools should seek to expand young people’s capabilities. The school curriculum (including Geography) enables young people to think beyond themselves and their everyday experiences. It therefore contributes to the ‘substantive freedoms’ available to young people.


For example, a Capabilities approach should give young people freedom to:


– make good choices and

– take decisions about how they want to live their lives.

To be able to think geographically enables young people’s capabilities in a particular way.

The video explains the capabilities approach in the context of the GeoCapabilities project.