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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

Science and goodwill meet drought-stricken communities
2016-03-02

Description: Disinfecting tankered water  Tags: Disinfecting water

“Everyone should contribute to the delivery of clean water to every individual,” says UFS researcher.

The drought in South Africa has impacted the country in many ways. Apart from its economic and environmental implications, the drought also has social implications, leaving some communities without water.

Since 21 January 2016, the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) is working together with the Department of Microbial, Biochemical, and Food Biotechnology at the University of the Free State. Dr Mariana Erasmus, post-doctoral fellow in the department, was appointed to lead a project for disinfecting tankered water supplied by the DWS to communities without water in the Qwaqwa area - which falls under the Maluti-a-Phufung Local Municipality.

She is working on the project with Robbie Erasmus from BioSense Solutions and Martin Bambo from DWS. A total of 53 trucks, 91 tanks, and 420 500 litres of water was disinfected so far, using sodium hypochlorite. “This is standard practice around the world,” Dr Erasmus said.

The work done by the UFS and DWS, who is monitoring the water quality as well as the process of water delivery, is very important. Disinfecting the trucks used to deliver water to drought-stricken communities decreases the formation of biofilm inside the tanks. “The biofilm could contain harmful bacteria such as E-coli. It is important to note that this is mostly the result of secondary pollution, since the water quality from the source where it was taken from, proved to be good. Drinking water with this harmful bacteria that has not been properly managed, can lead to health issues in humans when consumed,” Dr Erasmus said.

The Department of Microbial, Biochemical, and Food Biotechnology, interacting with the DWS on several water-related issues, volunteered to get involved in the project. They strongly believe that everyone should contribute to the delivery of clean water to every individual.

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