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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 on the right track with transformation - Fulbright scholars
2010-08-27

 
Pictured from the left, are: Dr Wilmore-Schaeffer, Rev. Dr Streets and Ms Leah Naidoo (Senior Administrator of the Institute).
Photo: Mangaliso Radebe

“I think the university is not only on the right track but can really become a model for how to negotiate certain difficult processes, such as transformation, within a short period of time. I think it can become a model, not just for other universities, but also for the world.”

This was said by Dr Rozetta Wilmore-Schaeffer, who together with Rev. Dr Frederick J. Streets, recently worked with the International Institute for Race, Reconciliation and Social Justice at the University of the Free State (UFS) as Fulbright specialists. They helped the institute come up with ideas in terms of making the changes that are necessary for the transformation of the university.

“There is a great deal that has already been done despite the sense of urgency and impatience, and I think there is a great deal more to be done,” said Dr Wilmore-Schaeffer.

“I think this sense of urgency comes from those who are involved in the process of looking at the destination, the place that they want to be at, and feeling that they are very far from it.”

During their visit here the two had numerous conversations with both staff members and students.

“I have been most impressed by the students who I think are ready to make changes in many different ways – I am talking about students of all racial groups and gender. The fact that they are referring to transformation as ‘their struggle’ shows that they are prepared to make changes,” said Dr Wilmore-Schaeffer.
She, however, cautioned that there were those who were still against transformation taking place at the university.

“I think there is still some resistance from some quarters on both sides of the fence and I would expect that at this point in time. I think what is really hopeful is that there are so many students who are ready to make the changes, who are making the changes, who are struggling with issues around making the changes; and I think that is really the hope for the university and the hope for the future,” she said.

“The resistance is complex,” added Rev. Dr Streets. “It is around a fear for the future, the loss of identity on the part of both black and white students, and the desire for cultural continuity amongst white students as well as amongst a variety of ethnic black students.

“The resistance is about learning that you are not the only kid on the block anymore and how you then overcome the feeling of realising that you are not the dominant person anymore and that your culture is not the dominant culture anymore.”

They have given a preliminary report of their findings to the Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS, Prof. Jonathan Jansen, which will be followed by a more detailed report later on.
 

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