School News: An All-Girls’ Collaborative and Iterative Model of Learning

Winter 2020

Why do female students become less vocal as they progress through school? And why do they yield dominance to their male peers, though their academic successes propel them into competitive colleges and universities?
The Ethel Walker School (CT), an all-girls high school, will explore these issues through its new Capabilities Approach Program, aided by a 2019 Educational Leadership Grant from The Edward E. Ford Foundation. The capabilities represent a constellation of skills, interwoven and foundational, which allows students to be challenged and experience failure in pursuit of functional mastery of each skill. The program recognizes social justice as a primary goal, as each student is encouraged to achieve her full potential, and it will focus on 10 capabilities divided into four categories—fluencies, discoveries, agencies, and a self-selected capability.
Students will stretch themselves and absorb a model of learning that is collaborative and iterative. “We are reimagining girls’ education in a way that seeks to disrupt gendered mindsets,” says Meera Viswanathan, head of school. “I was drawn to the thinking of Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen and his work on justice and the capabilities approach. He suggests that justice is measured by the ability of a person to engage in an array of actions … that help one realize one’s full potential according to one’s own system of values. Walker’s Capabilities Approach Program is inspired by Sen’s research and will focus more specifically on the iterative process of success and failure as necessary stages of girls’ learning.”
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