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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

Kovsie Debate team compete against high school learners in debate on volunteerism
2013-02-13

 
 Learners from Headstart High School with Kovsie students.
Photo: Linda Fekisi

Grade 12 learners from Headstart High School took on a team from the university in a debate on the Bloemfontein Campus. The school, in partnership with the University through the Schools Partnership Programme, will be visiting various divisions within the institution in the next four years.

The topic of the debate, Volunteerism and Social Citizenship, was brought forward by the Volunteers Office which is part of Kovsie student life. “The aim was to share our knowledge on volunteerism with the learners and at the same time encourage them to do their own research on the topic. We are making use of experimental learning to make them used to the whole notion of volunteerism”, said the Assistant Dean for Student Affairs, Pura Mgolombane.

The learners, who receive English lessons by Prof Jonathan Jansen, Vice-Chancellor and Rector, engaged in the conversation with ease as they expressed their own views on the subject matter. Their debate was moderated by the Chairperson of the Debate Society, Zola Valashiya.

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