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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

First UFS/AS Young African Scholar Award winner announced
2016-03-10

Description: Fana Gebresenbet Erda Tags: Fana Gebresenbet Erda

Fana Gebresenbet Erda, winner of the first University of the Free State /Africa Spectrum Young African Scholar Award, for his research on political economy.
Photo: Supplied

Scholarship in African Studies still faces the challenge of capacity-building to increase ownership by authors and institutions from and on the African continent. It also requires more coordinated efforts to provide the space deserved by African authors in the international domain. In 2015, the University of the Free State (UFS) Centre for Africa Studies joined forces with Africa Spectrum (AS) in a bid to address this issue by establishing the UFS/AS Young African Scholar Award.

This award seeks to strengthen efforts to promote internationally recognised African scholarship in African Studies. One way to achieve this objective is through publishing articles by researchers based in Africa and in the diaspora in Africa Spectrum, an accredited journal compiled by the German Institute of Global and Area Studies in Hamburg.

The inaugural award winner

Fana Gebresenbet Erda, a PhD candidate in a Global and European Studies programme jointly offered by the University of Leipzig (Germany) and Addis Ababa University, wrote the winning article for 2015. He will receive a three-year affiliation to the UFS Centre for Africa Studies as a Research Fellow, along with prize money of R5 000, sponsored by the UFS.

His article, The Ethiopian Developmental State in Its Peripheral Lowlands: Large-Scale Land Acquisitions, the Politics of Dispossession and State Remaking in Gambella, Western Ethiopia, argues that development through large-scale land acquisitions in Gambella, Western Ethiopia, belies a state-remaking project under a dispossessive political economy.

Submission now open
Africa Spectrum invites scholars to submit research articles in the context of the award. In October of each year a review committee selects submissions for review. Those eligible to submit are postgraduate students nearing completion of their PhD theses and postdoctoral scholars who were awarded their PhDs no more than five years earlier at the time of the submission deadline. Those submitting should be from Africa or should be affiliated to African institutions.

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