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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

Free State University Choir wins competition in Prague
2009-12-15

This past weekend, the Free State University Choir, under the directorship of Mr Corné van Pletzen, won the Christmas Music Festival Competition in Prague in the Czech Republic. 25 choirs from amongst others Spain, Hungary, Slovakia and Russia also participated in the competition.

It is the first time in the 10 years that the Christmas Music Festival Competition is presented that an overall winner of the festival and the competition was announced.

The choir originally only participated in the festival part of the Christmas Music Festival. Later, at the end of the competition, they were asked by the judges to prepare a song for the prize-giving ceremony, not knowing that the judges were judging them for the competition.

Mr Van Pletzen said, “Finally, after all prizes had been handed out, a trumpet fanfare announced the Free State University Choir as the overall winner of the competition. Our choir was also requested to close the competition with a song; that we did, whereupon our students sang the National Anthem with pride and with tears in their eyes.

The choir’s presentation was unique as they included a great variety of songs in their programme, amongst others some of Mr Van Pletzen’s own compositions and a song from Africa, Wana Baraka.

According to Mr Van Pletzen, six of the choirs obtained more than 90% during the competition. The Free State University Choir was however overwhelmed with positive feedback on the standard of their presentation from the audience, other participating choirs as well as the judges.

Most of the 38 choir members have already been members of this choir for three years now and this is the third time that most of them are singing overseas.

They will bring home a beautiful glass trophy.


Mr Corné van Pletzen.

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