The paper sets out a theoretical approach for understanding the quality of education in low income countries from a social justice perspective. The paper outlines and critiques the two dominant approaches that currently frame the debate about education quality, namely, the human capital and human rights approaches. Drawing principally on the ideas of Nancy Fraser and Amartya Sen the paper then sets out an alternative approach based on a theory of social justice and of capabilities. The paper develops an overall understanding of how education quality can be understood in relation to the extent to which it fosters key capabilities that individuals, communities and society in general have reason to value. It then analyses three aspects of social justice in more detail and seeks to relate these to EdQual and related research and debates. Here the focus is on an understanding of the distribution of inputs that facilitate the development of key capabilities; the extent to which the needs and rights of different groups are recognised in education; and, how decisions about education quality are governed and the nature of participation in debates at the local, national and global levels. It is argued that a social justice framework can provide an alternative rationale for a policy emphasis on quality that encompasses but goes beyond that provided by human capital and rights approaches; that through emphasising the importance of context and through providing a normative basis for thinking about quality in relation to development, it provides a useful starting point for reconceptualising education quality and how it can be evaluated; and, that it draws attention to the central importance of public dialogue and debate at the local, national and global levels about the nature of a quality education and what quality frameworks might look like at these levels.
This paper was first presented at the 10th UKFIET International Conference, University of Oxford,15-17 September 2009. ISBN: 978-1-906675-22-6, 29 pp.