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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

Prof Luyt says young researchers should not allow circumstances to determine their future
2016-02-01

Description: Prof Riaan Luyt Tags: Prof Riaan Luyt

Prof Riaan Luyt, an NRF B-rated researcher
Photo: Supplied

Young researchers, who spend their life at a disadvantaged and rural campus like the University of the Free State’s Qwaqwa Campus, should not be deterred from achieving their dreams.

This is the view of Prof Riaan Luyt, former Assistant Dean in the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, who achieved his B-rating by the National Research Foundation (NRF) late in 2015. This was by far the highest-ever rating on the Qwaqwa Campus.

“When I moved to the Qwaqwa Campus many years ago, having had the opportunity to do a post-doctoral fellowship in Polymer Science at the Leeds University in the United Kingdom, I was determined to get the Department of Chemistry off the ground, and to embark on serious research,” said Prof Luyt, who is now the Affiliated Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Research Associate Professor at the Centre for Advanced Materials, based at Qatar University.

“It was through sheer determination that I managed to obtain enough funds to equip a decent research laboratory. There were many obstacles over the years, but I managed to attract more and more postgraduate students and published more,” he said.

At first, Prof Luyt was not successful with his NRF-rating applications.

“My first couple of attempts to get rated produced no success. I was then awarded a C3-rating, which was later followed by C2 and then C1,” he added. “Getting a B-rating is the highlight of my research career. It shows that it can be done. Young researchers should not allow their past or present circumstances, or their work environment to stand on their way,” said Prof Luyt, who has supervised 38 master’s and doctoral students as well as 11 postdoctoral fellows. He has also published 185 papers in international and accredited journals.

Although abroad, Prof Luyt will continue to supervise eight postgraduate students at the Qwaqwa Campus.

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