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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

University recognised as leading Higher Education Institution for students with disabilities
2013-12-05

The University of the Free State has been lauded for creating an inclusive environment for persons with disabilities, winning the 2013 National Disability Higher Education Institution Award. The award was presented at the National Disabilities Awards held in Port Elizabeth as part of the celebrations for International Day of People with Disabilities.

The Deputy Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities, Hendrietta Ipeleng Bogopane-Zulu, commended the university during the event for standing out among South African institutes of higher education. She told the audience the award gives recognition to institutions that demonstrate, through their strategy and policy, the provision of an inclusive environment for persons with disabilities. This is done through the use of technology and accessibility at their premises.

It's not the first time the university received praise from the deputy minister. In 2012 she visited the Bloemfontein Campus as part of a nation-wide roadshow to assess disability compliance and support services at all universities and FET colleges. Impressed with the work of the Unit for Students with Disabilities (USD), she recommended that staff from various higher education institutions visit the campus to gain insight into what they are doing.

Receiving the award on behalf of the university, Hetsie Veitch, Director of the USD, says the award recognises the commitment of the university’s senior leadership, who support the USD in creating a learning environment that is welcoming and accessible to all students.

Rudi Buys, Dean of Student Affairs, says the university is appreciative of what the USD does and says the award is a great achievement for a unit that only started functioning on its own three years ago. “The role of our support unit for Students with Disabilities has since 2010 grown to hold not only a prominent place in our institutional reflection on and implementation of approaches of universal access, but also to stand as leading department in building and bearing witness to the commitment of the UFS to values of universal access.”

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