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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

A degree means nothing if you are not a decent human being, Vice-Chancellor tells first-years
2016-02-01

Description: Qwaqwa first-year welcoming 2016 Tags: Qwaqwa Campus

The 2016 Qwaqwa Campus first-year students received one of the warmest welcomes when the entire Rectorate and other senior UFS officials arrived to welcome them.

Leading the delegation was the Vice-Chancellor and Rector, Prof Jonathan Jansen, whose captivating message was well received by students and those parents who were in attendance.

“What keeps me going is your determination to come to the University of the Free State to start your life. You have done the right thing; do not forget that you are smarter than you think,” said Prof Jansen.

“Each one of you has a story to tell. You had to overcome poverty, disadvantage and abuse,” he said.

Prof Jansen encouraged first-year students to do more than just obtain a degree whilst at the university.

“This university is good not only in ensuring you get the best qualifications. Graduating and continuing to disrespect women is not good enough. Graduating and still continuing to be biased against gay people is not good enough. Getting a degree and still thinking you are better than others just because you have money is not good enough. A degree means nothing if you are not a decent human being,” he added.

In his welcoming message, the SRC President, Paseka Sikhosana, highlighted the importance of academic excellence that is backed by human embrace.

“Human embrace and academic excellence are two very important aspects that we strive for. Five of our members will be graduating this year whilst six are Golden Key members. And we have a very huge task of bringing our campus closer to the community and the community closer to our campus in an attempt to make a difference in those communities,” he said.

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