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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

Official opening: UFS earmarks R10-million to support national priorities
2006-02-06

 

The University of the Free State (UFS) is to align key areas of its academic and research efforts with national priorities through the introduction of five strategic clusters which would be funded by seedmoney of R10-million in 2006.

Speaking at the Official Opening of the UFS on Friday (3 February 2006), the Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Frederick Fourie, said the academic and research work that will be done in the five strategic clusters would contribute to the development of Mangaung, the Free State, South Africa and Africa.

 “It makes sense to concentrate the university’s human resources, our infrastructure, financial resources and intellectual expertise to ensure that the UFS makes a contribution to the country and the African continent,” Prof Fourie said.

“Strategic clusters will be organised on the basis that these areas of knowledge could become in the short term the flagships of the UFS, meaning those areas where the university currently has or in the very near future is likely to have some competitive advantage,” Prof Fourie said.

According to Prof Fourie, this strategic-cluster approach will be in line with the approach being designed by the National Research Foundation (NRF) to take national priorities into account and would enhance the quality of scholarship at the UFS.

The five strategic areas in which research and academic investment at the UFS will be clustered are the following:

Enabling technologies / Technology for the future;
Food production, quality and food security for Africa;
Development;
Social transformation;
Water resource and ecosystem management;

“Such strategic clusters are understood not only as research areas but as areas that also encompass strong undergraduate and particularly postgraduate teaching and a potentially solid scientific basis for service learning and community service research,” Prof Fourie said.

Within each of these clusters specific niche areas will be identified. Clusters could focus on one or more aspects of a particular discipline or could involve more than one discipline in researching a particular issue.

He said not all academic work and research being done at the UFS would be clustered in this way. Sufficient resources and support have been put in place for general research excellence in the past five years.

“Some of the spin-offs can have an important impact on industrial development, for example in the chemicals industry and may also create a basis for cooperation with provincial, national and international partners,” he said. 

Media release
Issued by: Lacea Loader
Media Representative
Tel:   (051) 401-2584
Cell:  083 645 2454
E-mail:  loaderl.stg@mail.uovs.ac.za
5 February 2006

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