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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

New Academic Head at South Campus to expand distance learning programmes into the global arena
2016-02-10

“Critical area of focus: Diversify provision, based on open learning principles, to improve learning opportunities across the post-school education and training sector” - SA Department of Higher Education and Training Strategic Plan 2015/16-2019/20

Open and distance learning (ODL) programmes will play a critical role in shaping the landscape of higher education. Not only does the South African Department of Higher Education and Training emphasise the importance of ODL, it is also contained within the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. And now the University of the Free State (UFS) is becoming a major role player in the field through the cutting-edge ODL programmes offered by the South Campus.

Description: Jean Grundling  Tags: Jean Grundling

Jean Grundling has recently been appointed as the Academic Head of the South Campus.

At the helm of these programmes is the recently-appointed Academic Head of the South Campus: Jean Grundling. According to the new organisational structure of the South Campus, the Academic Head reports directly to the Campus Principal: Dr Daniella Coetzee.

“My role,” says Grundling, “focuses on developing and monitoring processes that will enable effective and efficient implementation of the three pillars of ODL.” These three pillars consist of:

• the design and development of quality learner-centred learning materials and tools during their ODL journeys;
• the selection, appointment, and development of competent facilitators to guide, coach, tutor, and support students; and
• the integration of administrative processes that will enable and support students to study at their own pace, place, and in their own time.

“Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education, and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”
United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

As part of her personal vision, Grundling would like to see the South Campus grow and develop into an institution that offers quality ODL programmes not only nationally, but globally. “I would like the South Campus to become an agent of social transformation in South Africa.”

Ultimately, Grundling’s wish is for the South Campus to contribute to the development and empowerment of people so that they can play a positive role in society.

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