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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

UFS School of Nursing opens new frontiers at 40
2009-11-16

The opening of the virtual facility of the School of Nursing at the University of the Free State (UFS) and a gala dinner to celebrate the School’s 40th year of existence took place on the Main Campus in Bloemfontein this week. At the opening were, among others, from the left: Prof. Jonathan Jansen, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS; Dr Oluseyi Oyedele and Ms Viona Munjeri, both from The Atlantic Philanthropies; and Prof. Anita van der Merwe, Head of the School of Nursing at the UFS.
Photo: Leatitia Pienaar

All eyes in the nursing profession in South Africa were turned to the University of the Free State (UFS) when the School of Nursing opened a state-of-the-art virtual health training and learning facility and celebrated its 40th year of existence with a gala dinner on the Main Campus in Bloemfontein this week.

The lustrous events were attended by dignitaries from all spheres of the health-care fraternity in South Africa.

The new virtual facility, The Space, is made possible by a grant of R16 million from The Atlantic Philanthropies and R1 million from the UFS. The Atlantic Philanthropies organisation is an international philanthropic organisation that is going to inject R70 million into nursing in South African over the next four years. The initiative will enhance nursing education and step up the quality of health-care delivery in South Africa. Four major grants were made to universities in South Africa, of which the UFS is one.

With the facility at the UFS School of Nursing, nursing education is propelled into the future. Prof. Anita van der Merwe, Head of the School of Nursing, says, “The virtual learning facility is a very new way of thinking and teaching. At the moment, theory and practice are separated, as theory is often taught in the mornings, followed by practical settings later in the day. Learner nurses then also go to clinical facilities for their practicals where the quality of care is declining and human resources are a problem.

“We believe that with new technologies such as e-learning and high-tech computer-mediated equipment we can use the ‘virtual world’ to bridge the theory-practice gap in the same location.”

Prof. Van der Merwe says the project is essentially about transformation: taking a stand against stagnation in nursing education and practice and daring to be different.

In the new virtual facility nurses will have the best of three worlds – the expertise of the facilitator/educator, simulation technology, and a vast selection of on-line and off-line software, exposing them to blogs, broadcasting and enhancing computer literacy. This will attract both the new “millennial” generation, which tends to be technologically competent, as well as the older learner because of the unthreatening learning environment.

The core space will accommodate 40 to 60 students and is designed to encourage informal, collaborative learning and practice simultaneously. It will have a demarcated area for “patients” (such as advanced adult and baby patient simulators) and a “clinic space” allowing for role play.

At the gala dinner, Prof. Jonathan Jansen, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS commended nurses in South Africa for their caring role, but also expressed his concern that South African has lost its deep sense of care. South Africa is at a critical point and the country can be changed if a deep sense of care can be embedded again.

About forty nursing educators from all over South Africa attended an exploratory workshop in the facility today and the last meeting of the Forum of University Deans in South Africa (FUNDISA) also coincided with the festivities at the School of Nursing.

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 November 2009
 

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