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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 Rector spreads the Kovsie spirit
2010-02-12

Prof. Jonathan Jansen (middle) and UFS students Willien du Preez (far left) and Mbulelo Mpofana (far right) together with learners they met while on their tour of Eastern Cape schools.
Photo: Supplied


Prof. Jonathan Jansen, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Free State (UFS), recently joined the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences on a tour of schools in the Eastern Cape Province. Prof. Jansen sees the tour as a staggering success: “It was hard work, but a lot of fun. I can’t wait to visit other provinces and spread the true Kovsie spirit throughout South Africa.”

The tour kicked off at Aliwal North, where 36 students, parents and teachers from schools in Aliwal North were addressed.

In Queenstown they were awaited by more than a hundred people. Hoërskool Hangklip, Queen’s College Boys High, Girls High and Maria Louw Secondary School attended the function.

The evening function was hosted by Hudson Park High School. Representatives from many schools, including George Randell High School, Stirling High School and Claredon Girls High School made up the 174 people in attendance. The next morning motivational speeches were delivered at Grens Hoërskool and Stirling High School. George Randall High School also requested a visit from Prof. Jansen during the previous evening’s function.

The final function was held at Grey High School in Port Elizabeth. Hundred-and-thirty-four people from the top schools in Port Elizabeth attended the function. These included Victoria Park High School, Theodor Herzl School, Hoërskool Andrew Rabie, Alexander Road High School, Ethembeni Enrichment Centre and Nico Malan in Humansdorp.

Sadly, the tour had to end, but at least it ended on a high note. Ethembeni Enrichment Centre and Chapman’s High School were the last schools on the itinerary, but certainly not the least. The schools might not have all the resources at their disposal, but their enthusiasm and unquenchable spirit and pride were incredible.

Willien du Preez and Mbulelo Nkululeko, two students who accompanied the tour, were awed at the experience: “It was not only a privilege, but also proof that the university strives to give students wonderful learning opportunities. It also confirms our Rector’s stand: the university is not just offering students a degree, but also the opportunity to grow as humans. And that is what adds real value to our lives.”

According to Prof. Tienie Crous, Dean: Economic and Management Sciences, the tour achieved its goals, and much more: “We redeemed our university in other provinces while marketing it at the same time.”
 

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