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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

UFS becomes the first university in Africa to sign a memorandum of understanding with the United Nations University
2009-12-01

 During the signing of the memorandum of agreement between DiMTEC and the United Nations University in Bonn, Germany were, from the left, seated: Prof. Konrad Osterwalder, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Rector of the United Nations University; and Prof. Herman van Schalkwyk, Dean of the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences at the UFS; back: Prof. Dusan Sakulski, Academic Officer, UNU Cooperative Unit for South Africa; and Mr Andries Jordaan, Director of DiMTEC at the UFS.
Photo: Supplied
 
The University of the Free State (UFS) has become the first university in Africa to sign a memorandum of understanding with the United Nations University. The memorandum of understanding was negotiated by Mr Andries Jordaan, Director of the UFS's Disaster Management Training and Education Centre for Africa (DiMTEC).

Mr Jordaan negotiated with the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS) to foster a relationship and combine their pool of resources for training in different aspects of Disaster Management. A triangular agreement between DiMTEC, UNU-EHS and the University of Novi Sad in Serbia will be established in three phases. The first phase is the signing of a memorandum of understanding between DiMTEC and UNU-EHS. This phase was completed in September 2009, when Prof. Konrad Osterwalder, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Rector of the United Nations University, and Prof. Herman van Schalkwyk, Dean of the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences at the UFS signed the memorandum in Bonn, Germany. The second phase is a memorandum of understanding between UNU-EHS and the University of Novi Sad.

The memorandum of understanding entails among others joint projects between DiMTEC and the UNU-EHS, research for specific projects, exchange of lecturers and that the UNU will assist DiMTEC with external evaluation. As a result of this memorandum, the two universities have already combined their pool of resources by presenting a vulnerability short course and a visitation to the Republic of the Congo.

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