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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 takes lead in improving quality of training in economics in schools
2006-06-20

The fourth international workshop for trainers in the National Council on Economic Education’s (NCEE) outreach programme for Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East will be presented in Bloemfontein from 18-24 June 2006.

 “Because of the rapid success we achieved in the Free State with similar workshops in Economics education that were presented by the NCEE the past year, we have now invited representatives from education departments and universities of five other provinces to attend the international workshop for trainers,” said Prof Klopper Oosthuizen, lecturer at the University of the Free State’s (UFS) Department of Agricultural Economics and initiator of the cooperative agreement with the NCEE.

 The UFS and the Free State Department of Education are the NCEE’s first partners in Africa who received this training.  “The attendance of the five provinces and universities is the first step in the extension of the programme to the rest of the country,” said Prof Oosthuizen. 

 The NCEE is based in the United States of America (USA) and the workshop forms part of the council’s effort to improve the quality of the training of Economics teachers and lecturers across the world. 

 “South Africa is urgently in need of efforts to improve the integration of black people into the market economy.  An understanding of how markets work is one of the pillars of democracy.  Equipping young people with economic understanding and skills will help empower them for responsible roles as individuals and citizens,” said Prof Oosthuizen.

 According to Prof Oosthuizen representatives from the education departments of the Northern Cape, Western Cape, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and North West will also be attending the international workshop for trainers.  Representatives from the Universities of Rhodes, of KwaZulu-Natal, North West and the Durban University of Technology as well as the Cape Peninsula University of Technology will also attend the workshop.

 During this workshop teachers and lecturers in Economics will receive certificates. 

 Various subjects will be covered during the workshop such as world trade patterns, cost and benefits of free trade, exchange rates and international finance.  The training will be done by representatives from the NCEE by using methods such as direct instruction and role play.

 The NCEE is also in the process of training teachers and learning facilitators in the Free State in an effort to improve the quality of Economics classes in secondary schools. 

 “A group of 84 teachers and learning facilitators were trained in December 2005, 50 were trained in January 2006 and the last group of 40 will be trained at the UFS Main Campus in Bloemfontein from 26 June - 1 July 2006,” said Prof Oosthuizen.

 During this seminar the teachers will be trained in issues such as broad social goals in an economy, economic decision making, government’s role in a market economy and fiscal policy.  The training will also be done by representatives from the NCEE.

 The NCEE has been working together with international partners since 1992 to strengthen their Economics teaching systems.  They have already succeeded in increasing literacy in Economics at schools in the USA and more than 20 East Block countries.  More than 1,5 million learners in the East Block countries have already been served by this initiative.  Since 2004 the NCEE’s focus has moved away from the East Block countries to Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.

 “Our future plans include strengthening the growing partnership between the UFS, the Free State Department of Education and the NCEE.  We also want to establish a council and centres for economic education which will serve as an umbrella for our joint efforts,” said Prof Oosthuizen.

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

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