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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 will increase its volume of quality research
2009-11-25

 
From the left are, seated: Prof. Alice Pell, Vice-Provost: International Relations at Cornell University in the USA and Prof. Jonathan Jansen, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS; standing: Prof. Ezekiel Moraka, Vice-Rector: External Relations at the UFS, and Prof. David Wolfe from Cornell University during the signing of a memorandum of agreement between the two institutions.
Photo: Stephen Collett

The University of the Free State (UFS) is taking its research serious and is therefore going to increase its volume of quality research. This includes the production of quality scholarly books in the humanities and social sciences.

This was said by Prof. Jonathan Jansen, Rector and Vice-Chancellor, at the launch of the Strategic Academic Cluster initiative of the University on the Main Campus in Bloemfontein last night.

“We are going to produce the kind of research that is associated with scholarships. New models of training, new standards of performance and the introduction of an accelerated Vice-Chancellor’s Prestige Scholars’ Programme are among the initiatives that will be introduced. These are all aimed at boosting our university’s research performance,” said Prof. Jansen.

Another strategy to boost research performance at the UFS is the search for 25 leading professors to be appointed across the disciplines, but especially in the social sciences, education and the humanities. These positions have already been advertised and will be phased in with the goal of achieving equity and excellence in the academic and research profile of the UFS. “We’ve had an overwhelming response to the advertisements from local academics as well as those abroad,” said Prof. Jansen.

Each of the six Cluster Directors gave a short presentation of its aim and focus areas during last night’s dinner. These Clusters will in future direct the University’s research endeavours. It represents a move from a fragmented to a more focused approach to research development at the UFS.

The UFS also signed a memorandum of agreement with Cornell University (USA) last night. The guest speaker, Prof. Alice Pell, Vice-Provost: International Relations at Cornell University and member of the UFS’s International Advisory Board, said that, just as the cluster research teams need representatives from different disciplines, universities need diverse partners to recognise their potential fully. Collaborating with partners with ‘fresh eyes’ that have different cultural perspectives, access to different technologies and partners with different priorities can have important implications in the research and education provided by the UFS and Cornell,” she said.

“The interdisciplinary approach adopted by the UFS in developing the Strategic Academic Clusters seems likely to provide students with the intellectual frameworks and research tools that they need to address the problems in society,” she said.

“The most important issues facing the USA and South Africa are similar, namely how to effect the social transformation that will provide equal opportunities to all of our citizens. South Africa, Brazil, India and the USA share strong commitments to democracy, to overcoming our dark histories of religious and racial discrimination and to sustainable economic development without adverse impacts on our planet. We at Cornell are excited about the opportunity to work with the UFS on all of the clusters, but we are particularly looking forward to learning more about social transformation,” said Prof. Pell.

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  
24 November 2009

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