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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

SARChI Chair on disease resistance and quality in field crops awarded in UFS Department of Plant Science
2016-02-01

Description: SARChI Chair  Tags: SARChI Chair

Prof Labuschagne

A South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) chair has been awarded in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of the Free State (UFS). The chair will be headed by Prof Maryke Labuschagne, and will focus on crop quality breeding and disease resistance in field crops.

The disease resistance research by the chair will be headed by Prof Zakkie Pretorius. The disease resistance breeding will be a continuation of the internationally-acclaimed wheat rust research that Prof Pretorius has been conducting during his career.

The quality breeding will focus on crop protein quantity and quality as well as on iron, zinc, and beta carotene biofortification of staple crops such as wheat, maize, and cassava.

Prof Labuschagne believes that food security is one of the key factors for stability and prosperity on the continent. Her research and that of her students focuses on the genetic improvement of food security crops in Africa, including such staples as maize and cassava. “These crops are genetically improved for yield, drought tolerance, disease, and insect resistance, as well nutritional value,” she said.

Last year, one of  Prof Labuschagne’s PhD students, Bright Peprah, received an award for $473 000 from the competitive Program for Emerging Agricultural Research Leaders (PEARL) of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for his project on improving the beta-carotene content in cassava.

Prof Labuschagne also received the prestigious ‘Continental Lifetime Achiever Award’ from Africa’s Most Influential Women in Business and Government Programme (MIW) last year for her commitment and continuous contributions to food security. She is an NRF-rated researcher, and author or co-author of over 160 articles in accredited journals.

Research Chairs have been designed by the Department of Science and Technology, together with the National Research Foundation, to attract and retain excellence in research and innovation at South African public universities. 

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