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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. 

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No Student Hungry Programme presented with a generous donation
2015-05-18

From Left: Prof Jonathan Jansen, UFS Vice-Chancellor and Rector, Mrs Grace Jansen, Custodian of the NSH, Ms Lynsie Pelser, PSA Free State Social Responsibility Chairperson, Dr Vuyo Dyantyi, PSA President, and Mr Gerhard Koorts, PSA Provincial Manager.

The Public Servants Association of South Africa (PSA) presented a cheque for R55 500 to the No Student Hungry Programme on 7 May 2015 at the UFS Bloemfontein Campus. The PSA has been a proud supporter of NSH, and of initiatives such as the NSH 1000/33 Stride that saw four volunteers walk from Bloemfontein to Cape Town to raise funds for the programme from the send-off on 1 May 2014 to the welcoming on 3 June 2014 in Cape Town.

On receiving the cheque, Prof Jonathan Jansen, Vice-Chancellor and Rector of the UFS, expressed his gratitude on behalf of the university and all the students who stand to benefit from this initiative.

As a politically non-affiliated union, the PSA’s main focus is labour development and community support throughout the Free State and nationally. The NSH has received a total of R165 000, donated by the union since 2014, which supports more than 25 students.

The President of the PSA, Dr Vuyo Dyantyi, said “Our motto is to invest in human potential, and in programmes that will give the future generation a chance to prosper.”

The No Student Hungry Programme supports more than 130 students each year with daily meals, mentorship, and support on all three campuses.

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