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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

Two academics receive prestigious fellowship for leadership programme
2013-01-16

The University of the Free State (UFS) boasts two academics who received the HELM LEAD (Higher Education and Leadership Programme) Fellowship for 2013. Prof. Liezel Lues from the Department of Public Administration and Management and Prof. Liezel Herselman from the Department of Plant Sciences both received this prestigious fellowship.  

After the nationwide nomination procedure – with a choice from 120 applications - Higher Education South Africa (HESA) awarded 25 placements in the programme. Candidates who were selected, had to be in middle-management positions within the university sector, had to have exceptional qualities, and had to exhibit management and leadership potential within their university.  

This group will now undergo a number of modules in Higher Education, which will start during January in Cape Town. The aim of the programme, running between February 2013 and April 2013, is to provide learning opportunities for middle and senior managers to gain knowledge and skills, with a view to the successful navigation of the constant challenges of change and to interpret effectively the operational impact of internal and external drivers.  

Modules include topics such as Academic Policy and Planning; Governance and Strategy; Systems Management; and Managing People and Change.  

Prof. Lues stated that she applied for the programme because she strongly believes that an effective and vibrant public sector, and especially the role of female academics therein, will play a fundamental role in the transformation of the South African community towards a prosperous and tolerant society. “I believe the LEAD component of HESA will offer me the opportunity to enhance my knowledge and insight with regard to the socio-political environment and its impact on higher education institutions. The envisaged outcomes of the programme will also directly lead to the improvement of my leadership and management practices within the UFS’ Department of Public Administration and Management,” said Prof. Lues.  

Prof. Herselman was appointed as Head of the Department of Plant Sciences, effective from 1 January 2013.  She is very excited about this new position and said: “Although I am looking forward to the new challenge, I am aware of my lack of experience as a manager. The LEAD programme will provide me with the necessary skills and knowledge to succeed as Head of Department and will give me the opportunity to strengthen the Department of Plant Sciences and to make it a Department of international stature.”

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