Home | HDCA Conference 2022: Measuring Capabilities in Education and Health

HDCA Conference 2022: Measuring Capabilities in Education and Health

In September 2022, the AGEE Team coordinated a panel at the Human Development and Capability Association conference in Antwerp, on ‘Measuring Capabilities in Education and Health’. The speakers and papers were:

Gender, institutions and intersecting inequalities in education: Selecting indicators for the AGEE framework – Elaine Unterhalter, Rosie Peppin Vaughan and Helen Longlands (Centre for Education and International Development, UCL Institute of Education)

How to measure the effect of a child centred intervention to promote education equity and quality in Afghanistan and Pakistan? A capability approach perspective – Jean-Francois Trani and Parul Bakhshi (Washington University)

Building capabilities to interrogate routine health data to interrogate health inequities – Arunima Mukherjee and Sundeep Sahay (Department of Informatics, University of Oslo; HISP India)

The full panel description is below; for further details about the HDCA conference please see here.

In recent years there has been a proliferation of quantitative metrics relating to education and health. This has partly been facilitated by an increase in the production and availability of education and health data produced at global, national and local levels, and partly by policy frameworks, such as the SDGs which invite this work (Fukuda Parr and McNeill, 2019). However, such initiatives frequently draw on a rudimentary conceptualisation of equality, often using the concept of parity between particular groups. They generally deal only in outline with forms of social  division, overlooking intersectionality, and ignoring decolonial critiques about the power relations associated with the production of information, othering and the silencing of subaltern voices. They are often deployed by policy communities who deliver ‘top down’ solutions, inviting limited opportunity for critical scrutiny and reflection.

Health and education institutions have markedly unequal impacts on different social groups, with the politics, economics, and socio-cultural dynamics of race, gender, caste, and class often exacerbating hierarchy and exclusion, undermining the capacity of health and education institutions to overcome social division. Quantitative metrics are critiqued for assisting a “governance through comparison” (Nóvoa and Yariv-Mashal 2003; Hansen and Porter, 2012; Lingard et al., 2015), through which a policy technology, which diffuses particular assumptions and concentrations of power through transnational communities, contributes to limiting the possibility or transforming unjust structures. Recent UNDP and UN Women reports on widening inequalities and the enormous dangers of the anthropocene have grappled with how to both document and contribute to changing forms of inequality and injustice (Bauman, 2021; Elson and Seth, 2019). Existing health and education metrics have been strikingly unable to document aspects of social solidarity and engagements with transformation. The global social movements, which have developed over the period of the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting racial injustice and the consequences of climate and related crises, underline the importance of understanding agency and work to change unjust institutional structures. But only preliminary work has been done in thinking about metrics to support these processes.

In education, an emphasis on data documenting learning outcomes obscures analysis of the range of social, political and economic relationships within and beyond institutionalised education systems that shape capabilities and functionings, and support thinking about meanings of quality and equality (Unterhalter, 2018; Auld, Morris and Rappleye, 2019; Wulf, 2020). Analyses of gender and school closures linked to Covid and environmental disasters highlight the interconnection of education in school and at home with physical and mental health and wellbeing (UNESCO, 2021; UNESCO, 2022). However the data on measuring the inequalities associated with these crises at national and local levels remains quite limited, and work on intersectionality is only beginning (Unterhalter, Robinson and Ron Balsera, 2020). Building education systems to strengthen learning outcomes, limiting these to literacy, numeracy, and passing examinations, has been one policy direction associated with ‘build back better’ after COVID, but the key elements of the systems identified are associated with quite a limited matrix of simple relationships between principals and agents (Pritchett, 2015; Kaffenberger and Spivack, 2022), and limited engagement with the human development paradigm and ideas about intersectionality.

Health inequity is a major challenge facing most low- and middle-income countries, and the current form, contents, and capacity of health systems and institutions to analyze and use data for addressing these inequities is inadequate. At the same time, the number and types of digital interventions to strengthen data systems are rapidly increasing, but most often they are limited to expanding access and availability of data, and not on its use (Dadona, 2022). The connections between education and health are often not analyzed in the data used. Current digital interventions in health by governments tend to be very siloed, fragmented, top-down and focused narrowly on routine data, which represents the health services provided on a periodic basis to the population, for example data on number of babies immunized or people tested for malaria (Sahay, et. al., 2017). However, such data while being useful in highlighting “outputs” in terms of the quantitative status of a health service, is inadequate in explaining “impacts”, such as if this service is being equitably provided in the population, particularly bearing in mind the intersectional range of inequalities in capabilities.

This panel reports on initiatives to construct innovative metrics and approaches to accountability and measurement in education and health that draw on the capability approach. These set out to document intersecting inequalities through a process of collaboration and deliberation, highlighting approaches to selecting indicators, using existing data, supporting efforts to generate ‘grassroots’ indicators, examining indicators that can document agency and solidarity, enhancing public scrutiny of the measures used, and engaging in dialogue with the institutional systems which oversee the allocation of resources and direction of policy. The construction of alternative indicator frameworks is a dynamic line of scholarship within the HDCA community (e.g. work from EHRC, UNDP, OPHI, LSE). However many lines for exploration remain, including capabilities in and through education, selecting indicators on the connection between education and health, institutional factors and social norms, and measures which adequately express ideas about equality, intersectionality and agency. This interdisciplinary panel will explore how current projects have approached the development of measures, and indicators around education, gender, inequality, and health.