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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

NRF commits R30-million for research at the UFS
2007-02-20

The National Research Foundation (NRF) has committed approximately R30-million for various research projects at the University of the Free State (UFS).
 
According to Prof Frans Swanepoel, Director of Research Development at the UFS, the NRF has also approved all eight research niche areas that were submitted to the NRF, the highest number approved at any university in the country.
 
Prof Swanepoel said the 24 research projects for which funding had been obtained from the NRF ranged from traditional healing and HIV/Aids/tuberculosis management, practices of the paediatric anti-retroviral programme at the UFS to nano-materials synthesis and characterisation.
 
He said the eight research niche areas were part of an initiative at the UFS to establish strategic clusters of academic and research excellence.
 
“There will be six strategic academic clusters at the UFS and the eight NRF-approved research niche areas will form part of them,” Prof Swanepoel said.
 
The six strategic clusters are:
1.         Water management in water-scarce areas
2.         New frontiers in poverty reduction and sustainable development
3.         Social transformation in diverse societies
4.         Ecologically sound value chains for agricultural commodities
5.         Materials and nano sciences
6.         Advanced bio-molecular research
 
Prof Swanepoel said that the UFS had also submitted five proposals in terms of an NRF initiative to establish research chairs at South African universities.
 
“Linked to our intention to establish six strategic academic clusters, five proposals for the South African Research Chair Initiative (SARCHi) were submitted. All five pre-proposals were accepted in the first round of screening, and successful candidates have been invited to submit full proposals by the end of February,” he said.
 
The proposed research chairs are:
 
Petro- and organometallic chemistry
Biocatalytic and biomimetic oxidation-reduction systems
Nano-solid state lighting
People’s health and well-being
Water management
 
Speaking at the official opening of the university earlier this month, the Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS, Prof Frederick Fourie, said: “The cluster initiative represents a strategic initiative to focus our energies in a few key areas, investing in them so that the UFS can become an international leader in those fields.”
 
“A medium sized university such as the UFS with relatively limited human, physical and financial resources has to achieve this kind of ‘critical mass’ and synergy to establish itself in terms of its core functions of teaching/learning, research and community engagement,” said Prof Fourie.
 
Media release
Issued by: Lacea Loader
Media Representative
Tel: 051 401 2584
Cell: 083 645 2454
20 February 2007

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