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29 May 2019 | Story Valentino Ndaba | Photo Pexels
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

Cochlear implant changes Magteld's world
2009-11-06

The microphone is ready for Magteld Smith’s (second from the left) first radio interview after the cochlear implant was switched on by Mr Henk Wolmarans (right) of MedEl. With them are, from the left: Ms Vicki Fourie, Deaf Miss SA, Ms Eunika Smith from the SABC and Prof. Jonathan Jansen.
Photo: Leatitia Pienaar


Magteld Smith gave her first steps towards the world of the hearing when her cochlear implant was switched on in the Universitas Hospital this week.

A whole team was there to share her joy and disbelief and amazement the moment she could hear noises, voices and conversations. Among them were the Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Free State (UFS), Prof. Jonathan Jansen, and the acting dean of the Faculty of Heath Sciences at the UFS, Prof. Gert van Zyl.

“I can hear my own voice! I haven’t heard it for a long time. My wish is that every deaf child can get something like this,” she said while prodding Prof. Jansen to speak so that she can hear his voice.

Magteld is working at the university's Centre for Health Systems Research and Development and was deaf since birth. She lost her last bit of hearing due to meningitis last year. Her hearing aids could then not assist her to communicate and a cochlear implant was the only option.

A donation by the Austrian company MedEl made the implant possible. Prof. André Claassen, Head of the Department of Otorhinolaryngology at the UFS, says MedEl was also instrumental in the establishment of the implant programme at the Universitas Hospital and sponsored the first five implants at a total cost of R1 million.

Prof. Claassen says 27 implants have already been done here, but it came to an abrupt halt due to a lack of funds. Strong hearing aids are expensive and cochlear implants are even more expensive at R200 000 each. People with hearing disabilities must be identified at an early age as the brain’s ability to learn sound and voice diminishes after the age of three.
 

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