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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

Prof Hussein Solomon, an expert voice on Islam in Africa
2013-02-25

Prof Hussein Solomon
Photo: Supplied
25 February 2013

Prof Hussein Solomon, Senior Professor in the Department Political Studies and Governance, has been appointed Senior Research Associate of the Israeli think tank Research on Islam and Muslims in Africa (RIMA). 

Prof Solomon will give an expert voice on the topic of Islam in Africa, participating with other researchers in the network on political Islam and terrorism on the African continent. The centre is the only one in the world which solely deals with Islam and Muslims in Africa.

An expert on the topic of Islam on the continent, Prof Solomon says it’s an important focus area given the rise of Al Shabab in Somalia and its terrorist attacks across the world. He further mentions the rise of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and other such groups operating in Northern Mali, prompting the recent French intervention, as well as the increasing incidence of terrorism in Nigeria perpetrated by the Islamist Boko Haram.  "If you want to save lives, then you need to understand how such movements originated and how they operate."

The academic says through RIMA and its global network, he will work with other researchers and engage in collaborative research projects on the same issue, allowing for the rapid cross-pollination of ideas. "For the University of the Free State, it once more underscores the fact that, with the information age, you do not have to be in the capital of the country to be globally relevant. Indeed, in recent years the University of the Free State has increasingly been seen as a global actor in the academic arena."

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