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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

New Head for the School of Mathematics, Natural Sciences and Technology Education
2013-02-27

27 February 2013

Prof Sechaba Mahlomoholo from the Faculty of Education at the University of the Free State was recently appointed as Head of the School of Mathematics, Natural Sciences and Technology Education (SMNSTE).

As head of the school, his duties will include improving the learning, teaching and curricula of maths, natural sciences and technology at school and at post-school levels.

“The solution seems to be to move the SMNSTE into a very intensive praxis mode where, through our high-level research-based classroom practices, we can formulate strategies together with teachers, parents, learners and the Department of Education, to enhance learner performance in the abovementioned subjects. Our plan, therefore, is to facilitate the establishment of closely knit learning communities of practice around these three subjects, with the SMNSTE being the epicentre of thought and action, while schools, mainly in the Free State, will serve as other nodal points for this intensive praxis. We believe that the SMNSTE will come to its fullness once student and learner performance is respectable, and as such positions our country favourably among the community of nations. SMNSTE is a national facility which has to respond to national challenges effectively.”

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