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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

Investigations into incidents on the Bloemfontein Campus: 22-26 February 2016
2016-03-16

Investigations underway into incidents relating to the Varsity Cup rugby match at Xerox Shimla Park and all other criminal acts occurring during protest action

The senior leadership of the University of the Free State (UFS) commissioned a number of investigations into incidents relating to the Varsity Cup rugby match at Xerox Shimla Park on 22 February 2016, as well as into acts of criminal conduct occurring throughout the protest action in the week of 22 to 26 February 2016.

These investigations include:

1. An independent commission led by senior officials in the judiciary. The enquiry will establish the events before and leading up to the match, the tragedy on the field itself, and events immediately afterwards as the crisis spread around the campus, including the incident at Vishuis Men’s Residence the same night.
2. An inquiry about disciplinary and criminal responsibility. This includes the responsibility of students, staff where applicable, and outsiders on campus before, during and after the match, and during the protest action in the week of 22 to 26 February 2016. This will enable the university to take action for disciplinary purposes and to enable the laying of charges with the South African Police Service (SAPS) in criminal cases.
3. Led by the core team of 2006 auditors who did the first study on the transformation of the UFS, an empirical account will be provided on how far, or not, the university has come since the first comprehensive study on the subject. This report in part addresses the charge from some students or student leaders that nothing has changed or that transformation has not happened at the UFS.

The UFS Council endorsed and gave its full support to the investigations during its quarterly meeting on 11 March 2016.

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