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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

Renowned Sign Language expert heads UFS department
2009-11-27

 Mr Philemon Akach

The Department of Afro-asiatic Studies, Sign Language and Language Practice in the Faculty of the Humanities at the University of the Free State recently appointed Mr Philemon Akach as its new chairperson.

Mr Akach, hitherto a senior lecturer in the department, succeeds Prof Annelie Lotriet who left the university earlier this year after having been elected to serve in the national parliament by the Democratic Alliance.

“To head the entire department has never crossed my mind because I think I am discipline oriented,” he said.

He said the confidence that his colleagues have in him gives him the impetus to succeed. “It gives me the opportunity to rethink my position within the department and the university at large,” he said.

However, his Sign Language students will be glad to know that he will not be lost to them as the result of this new responsibility.

“I cannot neglect Sign Language,” he stressed. “I have to teach because the academic side of Sign Language has to be maintained within the university, as well as nationally and internationally. I just have to divide my time between the administration of Sign Language and the teaching and research application in my discipline (Sign Language).”

To ease the load that comes with his new responsibility and the added pressure of being the only Sign Language lecturer, he said they have contracted former students to teach some courses in Sign Language.

“We have to keep in place the disciplines that keep this department’s name going,” he said.

A major challenge facing his department, according to Mr Akach, is getting more students enrolled in the disciplines offered by the department.

“To get students we need to convince them that we are the best, and that is not just a challenge for me but for the department and the lecturers in the department teaching those disciplines.”

He said he will strive for excellence in the department as part of the overall vision of the university.

“We need to get research output while not neglecting the teaching part. It is research that brings in new knowledge and it is through research that scholars expose themselves to the outside world, and by doing that they actually put the name of this university on the international map,” he said.

Mr Akach will serve in this position for the next three years.

Media release
Issued by: Mangaliso Radebe
Assistant Director: Media Liaison
Tel: 051 401 2828
Cell: 078 460 3320
E-mail: radebemt.stg@ufs.ac.za  
26 November 2009
 

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