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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

First-year students welcomed into Kovsie Family
2013-01-23

 

New first-year students and their parents and guardians are welcomed on the Qwaqwa and Bloemfontein campuses.
Photo: Sonia Small
23 January 2013



   YouTube Video

They came from near and far. Some hail from Bloemfontein, others from as far away as Botswana but they all have one thing in common. They were here to start their first year as Kovsie students. Thousands of first-year students, along with parents and guardians, attended the first year welcoming on the Qwaqwa and Bloemfontein campuses on 18 and 19 January 2013 respectively.

“I do not care whether you come from the Free State or Zimbabwe or whether you are from Gauteng or Lesotho. I do not care if you speak Sesotho, Setswana or Afrikaans. What I care about is that you must understand that you are smarter than you think.”

This was the message from Prof Jonathan Jansen, Vice-Chancellor and Rector of the University of the Free State (UFS), when he officially welcomed first year students to the Qwaqwa Campus. “At the UFS, we put emphasis on two very important projects - the academic and human projects”, said Prof Jansen.

“The academic project is about you excelling academically as a student. It is about being the best you can be in your chosen field of study. All of you should strive to be like Zandile, a young girl from Umlazi who, despite her poverty and challenging conditions at home, went on to attain seven distinctions in her 2012 matric results”, said Prof Jansen. He was referring to Zandile who he tracked down via Facebook to offer her a full bursary to study at the UFS. Zandile had appeared on SABC TV news, expressing her frustration at the lack of funds to continue her studies, despite her performance.

“The human project is about you loving those who are different from you, thus becoming better human beings,” Prof Jansen said.

Prof. Jansen echoed the same message on the Bloemfontein Campus the following day when he welcomed thousands of new students. These students, their parents and guardians packed the huge tent that was erected in the CR Swart parking area of the campus. Prof. Jansen welcomed students from the different faculties during four sessions. He told parents and students that the class of 2013 was the smartest class the university had had in its 109-year history.

Mr Rudi Buys, Dean of Students, informed them about the many opportunities that awaited them at Kovsies. These include programmes like the Leadership for Change Programme for first year students and the Stanford Sophomore College Program for second year students.

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