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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

"We cannot train for unemployment"
2009-11-16

The prestige forum was attended by, from the left: Prof. Dirk van Damme, Head of the Centre for Education research and innovation at OECD in Paris, France; Dr Saretha Brüssow of the Planning Unit: Teaching and Learning; Mr Francois Marais, Director of CHESD; Prof. Jonathan Jansen, Rector and Vice-Chancellor; Prof. Driekie Hay, Vice-Rector Academic Planning and the guest speaker; and Prof. Magda Fourie of the University of Stellenbosch.
Photo: Gerhard Louw
“We cannot train for unemployment. We must continuously look at what employers and the world want, and update,” Prof. Magda Fourie, Vice-Rector: Teaching and Learning at the University of Stellenbosch, recently said at a prestige forum for teaching and learning at the University of the Free State (UFS).

Prof. Fourie, former Vice-Rector: Academic Planning at the UFS delivered the second Magda Fourie Prestige Lecture at the forum. The forum was presented by the Centre for Higher Education Studies and Learning (CHESD) and the Planning Unit: Teaching and Learning. Various presentations were made on innovations in teaching and learning at the UFS.

Prof. Fourie said research has shown that the knowledge, skills, competencies and values of students are out of sync with the needs of the world out there. Higher Education must look at the context in which it operates and the relevance of its teaching and learning. “We are busy with the cultivation of humanity,” she said.

The UFS is doing excellent work with its bridging programmes and other universities will have to give attention to it. The UFS is also excellent in its extended programmes and have more women and foreign students than the national average. The UFS, however, has a lower percentage of black students than the national average.

The UFS is also excellent in terms of postgraduate students. The national average is 36%, with the UFS boasting 47%. Prof. Fourie expressed her concern for the low throughput in Business and Economics at the UFS where only 13% of those who enter the system graduate. “These are the people we need for this country’s economy.”

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