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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

Two from the UFS selected to participate in USA transformation leadership programme
2009-11-29

Dr Choice Makhetha, Acting Dean of Student Affairs, and Prof. Aldo Stroebel, Director of International Affairs at the University of the Free State (UFS), have been selected by the US Embassy to participate in a Transformation and Diversity in Higher Education Leadership Programme in the USA during January and February 2010. Following a selection process in South Africa, Dr Makhetha and Prof. Stroebel are two of only five candidates selected, and the UFS is the only university in South Africa with two candidates.

Participants will meet with American scholars and experts on diversity in higher education, and visit various equity and diversity programmes at academic institutions. Discussions will focus on the real organisational implications of diversity, leadership, and changing the climate of an institution.

The programme will include investigations of campus diversity initiatives, public spaces and social forums where difficult dialogues about tolerance and social and cultural consciousness are facilitated in order to achieve acceptance and transform deep-rooted racial and ethnic conflicts. These dialogues will introduce future leaders to the practice of systematic dialogue as part of an effort to build constructive relationships.

Both Dr Makhetha and Prof. Stroebel have been involved in the conceptualisation and establishment of the Reitz Institute for Studies in Race, Reconciliation and Social Justice launched during November 2009, by inter alia facilitating the inclusion of four senior Fulbright specialists that will visit the UFS in 2010 to advise on transformation issues.

Photo: Supplied

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