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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

Department of Oncology provides hyperbaric chamber to cancer patients – a first in the Free State
2016-03-21

Description: Hyperbaric oxygen therapy  Tags: Hyperbaric oxygen therapy

From the left: De Villiers Brink, Gys Botes (both of the Par3 Golfday group that donated towards the hyperbaric chamber), Dr Alicia Sheriff (Head of the UFS Department of Oncology) and Prof Gert van Zyl (Dean of the UFS Faculty of Health Sciences).

Thanks to the Department of Oncology at the University of the Free State (UFS), cancer patients now have access to a hyperbaric chamber – a medical treatment that enhances the body’s healing process through the inhalation of oxygen.

In order to realise this tremendous addition to the treatment of cancer patients, the Department of Oncology established collaboration between the UFS School of Medicine, the Free State Department of Health, and a group of private donors. Currently the only one in the Free State, the hyperbaric chamber has been installed at the Oncology ward at National Hospital in Bloemfontein and will benefit not only patients from the Free State, but also the North West province and the Northern Cape.

While lying down in the chamber, the patient’s body absorbs more oxygen as a result of the high levels of air pressure. This process stimulates the healing of cancer wounds and various other injuries, including sports injuries.

Dr Alicia Sherriff, Head of the Department of Oncology (UFS), says her team is passionate about enhancing the quality of their patients’ lives, even when facing difficult circumstances. “I believe that the hyperbaric chamber is just one way of achieving this, since it helps decrease the harm done by certain medical conditions on the human body,” Dr Sherriff says.

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