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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

High-level Texas delegation visits UFS
2010-08-13

Pictured here, from the left, back, are visitors from Texas and UFS management: Ms Stephanie Curs (Director: Office of the Vice President for Global Initiatives), Dr Edwin Price (Associate Vice-Chancellor for International Agriculture and Director of the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture), Dr Mike Greenwald (Professor and Program Director for the International Studies Program, College of Liberal Arts), Prof. Ward Wells (Professor and Associate Head for Professional Programs, College of Architecture, and Director of Academy for Visual and Performing Arts), Dr Glen Mills ( Professor and Head of Department of Architecture), and Dr Alan Sams (Executive Associate Dean, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences); front: Prof. Jonathan Jansen (Rector and Vice-Chancellor, UFS), Mr Eric Bost (former USA Ambassador to South Africa and Vice-President for Global Initiatives), and Prof. Ezekiel Moraka (Vice-Rector: External Relations, UFS). – Photo: Stephen Collett.

A high-level delegation from Texas A&M University in the USA, led by Mr Eric Bost, Vice-President Global Initiatives and previous USA Ambassador to South Africa, visited the University of the Free State (UFS) recently. The objective of the visit was to forge strategic linkages and research partnerships within the ambit of Texas A&M’s expanded Africa strategy.

Texas A&M has 50 000 students, and is internationally renowned and highly rated for its scholarship, academic achievement and excellent research profile. The delegation consisted of representatives from the President's Office, various deans and heads of departments.

The discussions during the visit identified a number of shared interests and common research foci, and colleagues were unanimous in their pursuit to strengthen the relations.

In January 2009 Mr Bost delivered his final official address as US Ambassador to South Africa on the UFS Main Campus. Mr Bost, a close friend of the UFS, has since sparked numerous activities to further the transformation agenda at the UFS, and is very supportive of the work of the International Institute for Race, Reconciliation and Social Justice. A number of Fulbright senior specialists from the US are participating in the further conceptualisation, roll-out and activities of the Institute.
 

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