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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

Final lecture in Darwin series presented at the UFS
2010-02-23

At the lecture were, from the left: Prof. Terence McCarthy, Prof. Jo van As, Chairperson of the Darwin 200 Committee and Head of the Department of Zoology and Entomology at the UFS, Prof. Bruce Rubidge, Elsabe Brits, journalist at Die Burger and Esther van der Westhuizen, presenter on Groen.
Photo: Leonie Bolleurs


The University of the Free State (UFS), in collaboration with the Central University of Technology, Free State (CUT) and The National Museum in Bloemfontein recently hosted the final lecture on the Charles Darwin lecture series entitled “The story of life and survival”.

The lecture was presented by Prof. Bruce Rubidge, the Director of the Bernard Price Institute for Paleontological Research at Wits University and Prof. Terence McCarthy, a Professor of Mineral Geochemistry at Wits and Head of the Department of Geology. Proff. Rubidge and McCarthy are co-authors of the book The Story of Life on Earth.

Their lecture with the topic “Trends in evolution and their bearing on the future of humankind” dealt with the future of evolution. According to Prof. Rubidge, ninety-nine percent of the species that have ever lived are extinct. “We are living in a time of mass extinction. Fifty thousand species become extinct annually,” he said.

Prof. McCarthy discussed many factors that can result in mankind’s extinction today. The impact of climate change, big volcanic eruptions, a comet or asteroid hitting earth, tsunamis and the collapsing of sea islands are some of the factors Prof. McCarthy believes could cause great catastrophe’s on earth.

“We live on the brink of this all the time,” he said.

Prof. McCarthy also believes that we can avoid these catastrophes. By allowing only one child per family we can shrink the global population with 30% per generation. This is doable in a short time span,” he said.

Other ideas he had on saving mankind from getting extinct is to create extensive ecological reserves on land but especially in the ocean, to decentralise everything, to change to renewable energy, to recycle resources and to be vigilant in doing this.

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