Education and Empowerment

Alfie Kohn elaborates on the effects of how an educational grading system can be problematic for student learning, as well as it can reduce the quality of students’ thinking. From my point of view, Kohn’s analysis arises as a consequence of educating people so they can get a job, but not to empower them.

Empowerment is defined as the authority or power an individual has to control one’s life and claim one’s rights (Conger & Kanungo, 1988). However, this complex construct can be understood by both the economic growth and the capabilities approach. Within the economic growth approach, development is associated with efficient economic growth and productive forms of market participation (Keleher, 2007). In this context, empowerment is the ability of a person to make market-related decisions and autonomously control his/her economic status (Keleher, 2014).

On the other hand, empowerment within the capabilities approach is a process of expansion of the substantive freedom people enjoy, and it relates to an individual’s ability of being freely to perform in life (Keleher, 2014; Sen, 2011). This approach positions empowered people as owners not only of their economic activities but also as owners and managers of all the different spheres of life (Alexander, 2008). Additionally, unlike the economic-growth perspective, in order to achieve a lifestyle that a person has reasons to value, empowerment cannot be delivered by anybody, but it can only be achieved by individuals their-self (Conger & Kanungo, 1988), and each individual has to do it at his/her own pace (Rowlands, 1995).

Based in those two delineations, I consider essential to understand that education is a process in which students can get the tools they need to get empowered so they can achieve the lives that they want. Seems to me, that an education system which focus on its majority in the importance of grading, is a system that will be limited to prepare students so they can get a job, accordingly to the economic growth perspective. Consequently, by realizing that any education system should go beyond numbers and grades, and by focusing more on student’s learning experiences, education will be about empowering students so they can find the tools they need to make their difference in the world.



Alexander, J. M. (2008). Capabilities and social justice: The political philosophy of Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. Retrieved from,+J.+M.+(2008).+Capabilities+and+social+justice:+The+political+philosophy+of+Amartya+Sen+and+Martha+Nussbaum.+Ashgate+Publishing,+Ltd&ots=I2mZsvg5Gp&sig=Z9I7DrTWlDOsYF_FT1mCVw703eo

Conger, J. A., & Kanungo, R. N. (1988). The empowerment process: Integrating theory and practice. Academy of Management Review, 13(3), 471–482.

Keleher, L. (2007). Empowerment and international development. Retrieved from

Keleher, L. (2014). Sen and Nussbaum: Agency and Capability-Expansion1. Retrieved from

Rowlands, J. (1995). Empowerment examined. Development in Practice, 5(2), 101–107

Sen, A. (2011). The idea of justice. Harvard University Press. Retrieved from,+A.+(2011).+The+idea+of+justice.+Harvard+University+Press&ots=0soNdLyTdy&sig=vB8F0R0yo6Y_yNn9zuUbkXk4XzE


5 Replies to “Education and Empowerment”

  1. Empowering the students to learn the skills they need speaks to me. I had a professor in undergrad who articulated their grading scheme in a way that sticks with me even now.

    “I am an engineering professor, engineering in many ways is more like a trade skill. The grades you earn in my class represent a certification on my part that you have competently mastered the material I have expertise in such a way that you can go out in the world and practice it.”

    Im sure this can be applied to a lot of other educational areas, but when its put in the perspective of the real world, beyond just the number on the paper it really hit home for me about what the education and grade really meant.

    1. I really like and am intrigued by this idea of empowering students. I am curious to hear your thoughts on how educational contexts can move beyond numbers and grades and instead focus on students’ learning experiences.

  2. Great post!
    Loved your empowerment perspective for education.
    I want to add that it is important to focus on the quality of the tools and learning experiences to ensure the empowerment part. If we forget about them, the efforts might result a failure.

  3. Thank you for sharing this point of view about education and empowering.
    A lot of the times, professors, or instructors in general, think that by imparting/sharing/giving their knowledge into the students, they are empowering the students. This seems interesting because while the idea of more educated people (or more knowledge) takes barriers down and opens opportunities to decide your own choices; at the same time, not allowing students to discover the learning process, to be able to disagree, to make mistkes, to decide their own path within the learning context…. then, it is not empowering.

    I agree with you that it is a big challenge to learn how to apply all the ideas and techniques we are learning. Putting them into action, in real life actions is a challenge, and a lot of the times, this challenge can become a barrier because we may feel that it is too time consuming, and we won’t have the time to figure it out the path. Perhaps we can keep talking in the class so we bring the discussion into the “how” to apply what we are learning.

    Thank you for sharing this viewpoint!

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