Sustainable development through a redistribution of power in education: Complexity theory, the capability approach and the solar night schools of the barefoot college


Research output: ThesisDoctoral Theses


Finding a sustainable model of development has become one of the central goals of the international community, as evident in the many agreements made during the last few decades and with greater emphasis during the setting of the upcoming post-2015 development agenda. While education’s potential as a catalyser of such an objective has gained increasing attention, research demonstrates that its contribution is being hindered by the unequal distributions of power that currently exist among its stakeholders to negotiate and settle on contested issues related to the design and implementation of educational initiatives. This thesis explores the significance and implications of redistributing power in the field by means of enhancing the self-sustainability of educational development initiatives at different levels of autonomy and across sectors, as a pre-requisite for improving the effectiveness of their outcomes in terms of sustainable development – which, it is suggested, should be considered in the operationalization of education’s quality. The study proposes a new explanatory model based on the confluences and complementarities between complexity theory (principally as expounded by Edgar Morin) and the capability approach (as developed principally by Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum) – two theories that share most of their ethical and methodological implications in terms of sustainability, that define the substantial role of education for its attainment, and hold as important the distribution of power among development (including educational) stakeholders. Through an abductive inference modality, these theoretical propositions are analysed in comparison with the empirical evidence of an educational development initiative run by the Barefoot College in India – the Solar Night Schools Program, which offers an alternative model of schooling for children who are unable to attend regular school in the day – and informed by the findings of six other relevant case studies: Amigos de Calakmul, Fundación Escuela Nueva, Mercado Alternativo y Economía Solidaria, Red de Multitrueque Tláloc, ChildFund International, and Projeto Saude e Alegria. The investigation included visits to these sites in India, Mexico and Brazil, observation, interviews and comparative document analysis. The thesis concludes with a proof of concept of the importance of - and proposes ways forward for - shifting the focus of development in these domains towards increasing the self-sustainability of educational initiatives at different levels of autonomy and across sectors, and improving the mechanisms for their solidarity- based cooperation and negotiation so as to attack their roots in dependency. Such a shift would help to ensure that education is better connected to its developmental context, that it is more relevant to the interests and needs of the different actors affected by it, and, as a consequence, that its quality is enhanced – thus strengthening its potential as a cost-effective means and socially just objective of a development model consistent with the sustainability imperative. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • The Hong Kong Institute of Education
  • MASON, Mark, Supervisor
  • ADAMSON, Robert Damian, Supervisor
  • MACLEAN, Rupert, Supervisor
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Asian studies
  • Educational evaluation
  • Education policy
  • Latin American studies
  • Sustainability
  • Theses and Dissertations
  • Thesis (Ph.D.)--The Hong Kong Institute of Education, 2015


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