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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

Female-headed households more prone to economic strains due to rainfall variations
2016-02-02

Description: Martin Flatø  Tags: Martin Flatø

Martin Flatø
Photo: University of Oslo press

Research shows that a total of 41 % of South African (SA) households are led by women, and these households are twice as likely to be poor compared to other households.

Martin Flatø spent three months at University of the Free State (UFS), researching how female-headed households in our country are affected by variations in rainfall, which cause crop failures with their implications for rural economies.

He is a PhD student from the University of Oslo in Norway who was part of the 2014/15 Southern African Young Scientists Summer Programme (SA-YSSP) that was hosted by the UFS last year.

Flatø formed part of a group of international scholars who conducted research on how families led by females are affected by climate change. The group focused on the implications of the weather on crop failures and rural economies. Gender and household structures were studied to determine ways in which they are affected by economic fluctuations.
 
The research group’s preliminary findings indicate that female-headed households are more vulnerable to rainfall variation than households where there are adult residents or workers of both genders.

In view of the current water shortage in the Free State, as well as scientists’ projections that our country will be among the regions hardest hit by climate change in terms of a surge in temperature, Flatø’s collaborative research has substantial relevance.|

Grooming first class scientists
The SA-YSSP is a joint initiative of South African National Research Foundation and the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA). Its main aim is tackling challenges faced by the world at large and South Africa in particular.

Out of 24 PhD students from 18 countries and various academic disciplines, Flatø emerged as one of only three scholars to be awarded the Systems Analysis Scholarships for his outstanding science at the end of the programme.

World class mentorship
Prof André Pelser and Dr Raya Muttarak were Flatø’s SA-YSSP supervisors. Prof Pelser, of the UFS Department of Sociology, is a leading academic on population processes, and how they relate to local environmental issues in South Africa. Dr Muttarak is a research scholar at IIASA in Austria.

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