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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

Student Transformation Forum kicks off
2010-08-19

Ms Nida Jooste and Ms Modieyi Mothole
Photo: Lize du Plessis

The establishment of a Broad Student Transformation Forum (BSTF) at the University of the Free State (UFS) was initiated yesterday with a student consultative forum called to determine the agenda and delegations to the BSTF.

The establishment of the BSTF follows the suspension of the functioning of the Student Representative Council (SRC) recently and aims to provide students broadly with the opportunity to reach consensus regarding student governance at the Main Campus in Bloemfontein.

The meeting was chaired by student affairs specialist Prof. Cecil Bodibe and was attended by representatives from student associations from all faculties, representatives of non-faculty student associations and representatives from residences. Commuter students were represented through private student associations.

“The meeting clearly expressed agreement that decisions taken by the BSTF should ensure that the student body and student-life programmes truly reflect our constitutional commitment to building a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic society, and that collaboration between students and management in affecting the decisions of the BSTF to achieve this should be prioritised,” Mr Rudi Buys, Dean of Student Affairs, said.

The forum agreed that apart from addressing specific questions pertaining to student governance, the BSTF should also address transformation issues broadly. The forum also agreed that the delegations to the BSTF should ensure that the forum is truly representative of the diverse student population and is inclusive of all stakeholder groups, including international students and students with disability. A proper process to determine the credentials of participating association was requested and will be implemented.

The meeting furthermore expressed the wish that the BSTF should exist only to determine the key changes that should be made to student governance now, so that the postponed SRC elections may continue as soon as possible. The BSTF will thus have a temporary role to enable the student body to reach consensus regarding changes to the SRC constitution.

Meanwhile, an Interim Student Committee (ISC) was appointed, which has the role to ensure the continuation of daily student life programmes and to ensure student representation in management and governance of the university continues during the deliberations of the BSTF. The ISC serves as an interim structure that will dissolve when a new SRC takes office following the outcome of the BSTF and the continuation of the SRC election.

The ISC consists of 15 members who were appointed through a process of nomination of four (4) members each from the faculty-student associations, non-faculty student associations and from residences, and three (3) members from the student executive committees of Kovsie Community Service, the Irawa student newspaper and the Kovsie Rag executive committee.

The ISC elected Ms Modieyi Mothole and Ms Nida Jooste as its chairperson and deputy-chairperson, respectively.
“I’m encouraged with the initiative and response of students to ensure student governance continues, which bears witness to the depth of leadership our student body holds, while the level of engagement by students in the BSTF indicates that the student body seriously consider issues of transformation,” said Mr Buys.

Media Release
Issued by: Lacea Loader
Director: Strategic Communication (actg.)
Tel: 051 401 2584
Cell: 083 645 2454
E-mail: loaderl@ufs.ac.za  
19 August 2010
 

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