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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

Medical students enrich lives through community service project
2016-03-18

Description: 2016 03 18 Outreach  Tags: 2016 03 18 Outreach

A group of third-year medical students organised a fun day for Ons Kinderhuis as part of their community service project.

As part of their curriculum, third-year MBChB students are required to complete a community service project in collaboration with a specific NGO in Bloemfontein. Not only do these projects serve an academic requirement, but also echo the spirit of service and compassion emblematic of the Human Project of the University of the Free State (UFS).

 

One group of students chose to pour their time and care into Ons Kinderhuis–home to 100 children with special needs. Since their involvement, these medical students have helped improve the home’s facilities and also hosted various fun days for the staff and children.

 

The latest fun day was celebrated on Saturday 12 March 2016. The festivities were kicked off in the morning by a game of soccer using the brand-new goal posts recently built by the medical students. It was difficult to decide who were more excited – the children or the staff – when some of the Cheetah rugby players joined the event. A slippery slide came in handy to wash off sticky hands and mouths and for little bodies with lots of energy the jumping castle was a perfect answer. Faces were painted and a banner created while music and the smell of the braai floated into the autumn air.

 

“I couldn't help but be proud of my team and thankful for this opportunity,” said Willem Potgieter, one of the student volunteers. Seeing the smiles on the children’s faces made it all worthwhile. “It was truly a humbling and a great learning experience for each and every one of us,” Willem said.

 

This group of medical students consist of Burger Oosthuizen, Marié Engelbrecht, Lourens Badenhorst, Dirki Wessels, Roodt Ehlers, Shirley-Louise du Plessis, Mariet Geldenhuys, Louise-Mari Zietsman and Willem Potgieter.

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