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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

A Strategic Maths and Science Education Initiative at the Qwaqwa Campus
2009-11-17

Representatives of the Natural and Agricultural Sciences and Education Faculties as well as the Qwaqwa Campus Management recently convened a workshop on a strategic new Maths and Science Education Initiative to be offered from the Qwaqwa Campus of the University of the Free State (UFS). The two faculties have agreed to partner in order to offer programmes that will contribute to the development of well-qualified Maths and Science teachers and the improvement of Maths and Science education in local schools.

The programme will be based on a strong research foundation and will also involve extensive partnerships with schools in the Qwaqwa region. Amongst others, the initiative will include the possible introduction of a new programme specifically targeting prospective Maths and Science teachers, as well as the development of modules that focus on the critical content that needs to be covered in the curriculum at Grades 10 to 12.

The initiative emerges against a background of major shortages in science and technology skills in the country, poor performance in Maths and Science in South African schools, a lack of resources such as laboratories in schools, concerns about the content knowledge of qualified teachers and the high demand for Maths and Science teachers, together with very small numbers actually qualifying in these areas. A committee with representatives from both faculties as well as representatives from the Qwaqwa and Main Campuses has been formed to take the planning for this initiative forward. A full business plan is due to be completed in early 2010.

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