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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

Water Collection Campaign distributes 3 500 bottles in Free State
2016-02-19

 Description: KL News 2016 02 19 Water Tags: KL News 2016 02 19 Water
The Muslim Students Association (MSA), along with the Gift of the Givers Foundation, collected 3 500 5l bottles of water that was distributed to disadvantaged areas within the Free State. From left is Muhammed Bhamjee, President of MSA, Emily Thomas, project manager for Gift of the Givers Foundation, and Grace Jansen, one of the generous donors. Photo: Charl Devenish.

The Muslim Student Association (MSA) at the University of the Free State (UFS) took it upon themselves to respond to the regional water crisis being experienced in the Free State. Under the leadership of Muhammed Bhamjee, President of MSA, the association started an initiative to collect water for the purpose of distributing it to disadvantaged areas within the Free State.

The drive started out as just a humble request within the student community, but it gained a great deal of attention from staff, departments, and students from the UFS. The response was overwhelming; 3 500 5l bottles of water were donated.

Amongst the donors were the Student Affairs department and Grace Jansen, wife of Prof Jonathan Jansen, Vice-Chancellor and Rector of the UFS. Mrs Jansen said it was important for her to make a contribution: “Even though we are receiving, we need to give as well. Wherever there is a need, we need to be involved.” She believes the project has the ability to grow and gain more attention and support. She believes it needs to grow across communities to solve such problems together.

Bhamjee explains that the MSA has had a relationship with Gift of the Givers Foundation, as they have been running the campaign for quite some time. “We just felt that it’s our responsibility to get involved. Even with the little we can do, every bit counts at the end of the day.” He added that there is also a need to support fellow students at the UFS Qwaqwa Campus.

Emily Thomas, project manager for Gift of the Givers Foundation, applauds the MSA initiative, and encourages students to continue collaborating with the foundation to assist with disaster situations.

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