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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

UFS honours young researchers
2006-02-10

Some of the guests attending the recognition function were from the left:  Prof Magda Fourie (Vice-Rector:  Academic Planning at the UFS), Mr Joseph Smiles (lecturer at the UFS Department of Political Science and Thuthuka grant holder), Prof Frans Swanepoel (Director:  Research Development at the UFS) and Dr Carlien Pohl (lecturer at the UFS Department of Microbial,  Biochemical and Food Biotechnology and Thuthuka grant holder).
Photo: Leonie Bolleurs

The guest speaker was Prof Jonathan Jansen, Dean:  Faculty of Education at the University of Pretoria (UP).  He gave tips to young and promising researchers on how to be an outstanding scholar. 
What is a Scholar 

UFS honours young researchers       

The University of the Free State (UFS) last night honoured 24 young researchers who are taking part in the National Research Fund’s (NRF) Thuthuka programme.

The recognition function is the first of its kind at the UFS.  “The renewed focus on research development that was recently announced at the official opening of the UFS by the Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Frederick Fourie, is an indication of the institution’s endeavour to create an environment in which research can be improved and flourish.  This can only be obtained when researchers are being valued and that is why it is important to honour our young researchers,” said Mrs Annelize Venter, researcher at the UFS Research Development Directorate and coordinator of the programme.
 
The focus on research was also touched on recently by President Thabo Mbeki during the opening of Parliament when he said:  “We will continue to engage the leadership of our tertiary institutions focused on working with them to meet the nation’s expectations with regard to teaching and research. For its part, the government is determined to increase the resource allocation for research and development and innovation, and increase the pool of young researchers."

According to Mrs Venter, research done in 2004 shows that the majority researchers who publish are white males above the age of 50.  “Many students who undertake magister studies choose not to conduct research, but rather to do a thesis and additional subjects.  This means that research is not stimulated.  Students also find it difficult to obtain financial support for postgraduate studies,” she explained.
“Thutuka is a capacity building programme of the NRF that is aimed to 
fund and support the qualifications of women and young black scientists and other researchers who do not have a rating for postgraduate research.  It is based on a funding partnership between the UFS and the NRF,” said Mrs Venter.

Last night Prof Frans Swanepoel, Director: Research Development at the UFS, added to his by saying:  “With the Thuthuka programme we aim to create and sustain a research culture at the UFS, promote international research and train researchers of a high quality and enhance the research capacity at the UFS by focusing on women, black researchers and other promising researchers.”
 
The programme was started by the NRF in 2001.  At that stage only 17 grants were made countrywide.  Last year 370 postgraduate students took part in the programme.

According to Mrs Venter the programme was implemented at the UFS in 2003.  “At that stage we only had 5 grant holders.  This year there are 24 Ph D and magister students on the programme,” she said. 

A couple of young promising researchers, who will be participating in the programme in 2007, also attended last night’s recognition function.

The guest speaker was Prof Jonathan Jansen, Dean:  Faculty of Education at the University of Pretoria (UP).  He gave tips to young and promising researchers on how to be an outstanding scholar.

Nine professors were also congratulated with their promotion to senior research professor, namely Proff Louise Cilliers (Department of English and Classical Languages), James du Preez (Department of Microbial,  Biochemical and Food Biotechnology), Johan Grobbelaar (Department of Plant Sciences), Dingie Janse van Rensburg (Centre for Health Systems Research and Development), Dap Louw (Department of Psychology), Philip Nel (Department of Afro-asiatic Studies and Language Practice and Sign Language), Louis Scott (Department of Plant Sciences), Dirk van den Berg (Department of History of Art) and  Andries Raath (Department of Constitutional Law and Philosophy of Law).

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

 

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