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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

Miss Deaf SA inspires UFS teachers with her life story
2009-11-26

Pictured from the left, are: K. Botshelo, Vickey Fourie (Miss Deaf SA) and A. Morake.

Vicki Fourie, Miss Deaf SA 2009 and Miss Deaf HESC, recently visited the University of the Free State to motivate aspiring Foundation Phase teachers by sharing her life story with them.

When Vicki was two years old, her parents found out that she couldn’t speak. Two possible explanations were that she had had an ear infection or speech problems. They took her to a specialist and after a brain scan they found out that Vicki had 97% hearing loss in both ears.

Hearing aids were required and Vicki’s father, Pastor Gerhard Fourie from the Christian Revival Church (CRC) enrolled her in a kindergarten school for deaf children, Carel Du Toit in Cape Town.

However, even though Carel Du Toit’s slogan is ‘Where Deaf Children Learn to Speak’, it was because of her mother’s efforts that Vicki is able to communicate effectively with hearing people today.

Bonita Fourie would sit with her child every single day and teach her how to pronounce words phonetically and how to read lips. It is because of that that Vicki is not dependent on sign language at all.

When she was seven years old, her parents enrolled her in an English A.C.E. school. Even though Vicki’s home language is Afrikaans, her parents decided to go against the norm by placing her in an English school (most deaf/hard of hearing people cannot learn a second language). Today Vicki is fluent in both languages.

“I used to think that my hearing aids are just a normal thing you put on, like using glasses for reading,” she said. “I still think that way. People always come up to me and say, ‘It’s amazing how easily you adapt to hearing people. You have no stumbling blocks or holdbacks.’

“To me it’s interesting because my reaction is always this: ‘God gave me this situation, and I have made the best of it. I’ve overcome it, and therefore I can go forward in life’. We were born not to survive, but to thrive. I detest the attitude of, ‘I’m a victim, so the world owes me something’. The world owes nobody anything! We can be victorious over our own circumstances. It is possible. My name’s meaning is testifies to this: “Vicki” comes from the word “Victory”. I was meant to be victorious, and not a victim.”

Vicki, who is now 20, has achieved so much in life. She did ballet, hip-hop, modern dancing, drama (she even went to America for her dramatic monologue and poetry recitation), and she has published over 70 magazine articles, nationally and internationally. Her dreams are to write books one day, become a TV presenter, and motivate and inspire people all over South Africa through public speaking.

When one hears this story, one cannot help but be surprised by her success. It makes you realize that anything is possible when you see the potential in a child, and then do everything in your power to develop it and draw it out. When you believe in the child that you are educating, that child will sense it and blossom like a flower.

“Courage isn’t a gift, it is a decision,” Vicki said. “There will always be things that try to hold you back. The key to working with any child is to be patient, patient, and patient! Teachers play a huge role in equipping children for the future. It is a big responsibility, but it can be done.”
 

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