The GeoCapabilities 2 project applied 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.

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 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, we read that capabilities embody ‘the substantive freedoms’ a person has ‘to lead the kind of life he or she has reason to value’.

GeoCapabilities is interested in the school curriculum (especially geography). Schools should 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. That is, for example, freedom:

to think,

make good choices and

decisions about how to live.

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

Thinking Geographically keeps the Earth whole*, even when viewed from different perspectives.

* This idea has a long history. As long ago as 1919, UK geography educator James Fairgrieve wrote that  ” … the world has become a single economic system with no part really independent of any other part.”


The key purpose of GeoCapabilities is to create materials that help teachers develop as geography curriculum leaders.

A capabilities approach to education considers how the individual can lead a life that she or he has reason to value. A GeoCapabilities approach argues that an individual will develop greater potential to do this if they acquire geographical knowledge, enabling them to think geographically.

Consequently, the project is very interested in the role of knowledge in teaching. The GeoCapabilities project is underpinned by the idea of ‘powerful disciplinary knowledge’ (PDK).

Richard Bustin, a school teacher, explains why the GeoCapabilities project is useful and significant for improving geography education.

7871357-box-with-golden-lightbeams Richard Bustin explains the capabilities approach


You may also click through to the Glossary to check on the key concepts and how they link together.

GeoCapabilities 2 focused on geography teachers, their role as curriculum leaders and their understanding of and engagement with ‘Powerful Disciplinary Knowledge’ (PDK).

GeoCapabilities 2 was developed to be a vehicle for teachers’ professional development.