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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 launches focused research niche areas
2009-11-20

The University of the Free State (UFS) will launch its six research niche areas, the Strategic Academic Clusters, from 23-25 November 2009 on its Main Campus in Bloemfontein.

These Clusters represent a move from a fragmented to a more focused approach to research development at the UFS and will in future direct the University’s research endeavours.

“The UFS is increasingly operating in a competitive environment where South African universities no longer compete only with their national counterparts, but also internationally. With the Clusters the University will follow a focused approach to the strategic selection of niche knowledge platforms and research areas,” says Prof. Frans Swanepoel, Director of Research Development at the UFS.

The Clusters are: Water management in water-scarce areas; New frontiers in poverty reduction and sustainable development; Transformation in highly diverse societies; Technologies for sustainable crop industries in semi-arid regions; Materials and nanosciences; and Advanced biomolecular research.

“The Clusters embody the pursuit of quality and excellence and the name signifies the University’s concern not only with research, but also with under- and postgraduate teaching and learning. The vision is that the Cluster activities will not only drive world-class research outputs, but also contribute to internationally renowned graduate programme activities,” says Prof. Swanepoel.

Each of the Clusters is led by a dedicated director who provides academic leadership, facilitates cutting-edge research, leverages multidisciplinary synergies and coordinates the overall Cluster activities.

Next week’s launch programme will start on Monday, 23 November 2009 with a gala dinner, followed by a plenary symposium on Tuesday, 24 November 2009, during which the Clusters will be introduced.

Several national and international experts in the fields covered by the Clusters will take part in this symposium. They are, amongst others: Dr Danny Walmsley from St Mary’s University in Canada; Dr David Wolfe from Cornell University and Dr David Clark from the National Institute of Health, both in the USA; Mr Mark Ashley from the Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre in Australia; Dr Ian Goldman from the Office of the Presidency in South Africa; Prof Peter Ewang from the South African National Development Agency; Mr Willem Louw from Sasol Technology; and Dr Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela from the University of Cape Town.

On Wednesday, 25 November 2009 each Cluster will present its own symposium.

Media release
Issued by: Lacea Loader
Deputy Director: Media Liaison
Tel: 051 401 2584
Cell: 083 645 2454
E-mail: loaderl.stg@ufs.ac.za  
20 November 2009

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