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Prof Melanie Walker
Fostering human capabilities in universities may potentially transform education, says Prof Melanie Walker.

Education is at the centre of human life, and has the potential to be a crucial support for democratic life. Prof Melanie Walker’s recent research paper strikes a balance in dealing with people, education and the implications for democracy through the lens of human capabilities theory and practice and her own research.

People and papers

In her capacity as the SARChI Chair in the Higher Education and Human Development Research Programme at the University of the Free State (UFS), Prof Walker recently published a paper titled: Defending the Need for a Foundational Epistemic Capability in Education. It appeared in the special issue of the Journal of Human Development and Capabilities in honour of renowned Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen’s 85th birthday.

Nurturing epistemic justice

Within the context of existing literature such as that of Sen’s concern with the value of education on the one hand, and public reasoning on the other, Prof Walker argues for a foundational epistemic capability to shape the formal education landscape – as well as quality in education – by fostering inclusive public reasoning (including critical thinking) in all students. It would contribute to what Sen calls the ‘protective power of democracy’ and shared democratic rights, which, he argues, are strongly missed when most needed.

“Sen’s approach asks us to build democratic practices in our university and in our society in ways which create capabilities for everyone. If our students learn public reasoning in all sorts of spaces in university, including the pedagogical, they may carry this into and back to society,” she said.

Educating for equality

Empowering society and fighting for justice are some of the crucial contributions made possible through fostering the epistemic capability of all students. “The capability requires that each student is recognised as both a knower and teller, a receiver and a contributor in critical meaning and knowledge, and an epistemic agent in processes of learning and critical thinking,” states Prof Walker.

In a young democracy like South Africa’s, inclusive public reasoning becomes all the more essential in order to achieve equality, uphold rights and sustain democracy as enshrined in the constitution, thereby improving people’s lives. 

News Archive

Year-long programme to celebrate the story of life and survival
2009-02-13

 
At the launch of the UFS's year-long programme to celebrate the story of life and survival were, from the left: Prof. Schalk Louw, Department of Zoology and Entomology, Prof. Jo van As, Department of Zoology and Entomology, Prof. Maitland Seaman, Centre for Environmental Management, and Prof. Matie Hoffman, Department of Physics. All four are associated with the UFS.
Photo: Hannes Pieterse

A year-long programme to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his scientifically important book “The Origin of Species” was launched yesterday (the birth date of Darwin) by the University of the Free State (UFS) on its Main Campus in Bloemfontein.

The UFS is the only university in the country that is presenting such an extensive programme on life and survival. Yesterday’s launch programme entailed a portrayal of the life of Darwin and a presentation on what nature tells us about cosmic history. It was the start of a year-long lecture programme in which various departments at the UFS will take part.

“The lecture programme, called “The story of life and survival”, forms a cycle of the progress of man and does not only focus on Darwin. The programme aims to portray the influence of Darwin’s theory of evolution on a wide range of disciplines. We see this as a good opportunity to promote science in its broadest context,” says Prof. Jo Van As, head of the Department of Zoology and Entomology at the UFS.

The lecture programme will include topics such as the geological evolution of our planet, extinction, Darwinian agriculture, the road to civilisation, the proliferation of technology and communication, human demography and the human impact on the environment. It will be concluded in February 2010 with a lecture on the future of evolution.

The programme is spearheaded by the Department of Zoology and Entomology at the UFS, in conjunction with the National Museum and the Central University of Technology.

“Today evolution is no longer considered to be a theory and is widely accepted by most serious scientists as the process responsible for the diversity of life on our planet,” says Prof. Van As.

Complete programme:

26 February 2009: The geological evolution of our planet
13 March 2009: Origin of life, prokaryotes and eukaryotes
24 March 2009: Extinction
16 April 2009: Evolution and biodiversity of plants
30 April 2009: Evolution and biodiversity of animals
14 May 2009: The mechanisms of evolution: Heredity and Natural Selection
28 May 2009: Origin of humankind
4 June 2009: Darwinian agriculture
30 July 2009: Road to civilisation
6 August 2009: Human demography
20 August 2009: Proliferation of technology and communication
10 September 2009: Human impact: On the environment
8 October 2009: Human impact: Resistance, ectoparasites, HIV/Aids, antibiotics
22 October 2009: How to care for the world
12 February 2009: The future of evolution

Media Release
Issued by: Lacea Loader
Assistant Director: Media Liaison
Tel: 051 401 2584
Cell: 083 645 2454
E-mail: loaderl.stg@ufs.ac.za
13 February 2009

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