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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

Osaka University in Japan joins forces with UFS to discuss SA and Africa
2016-03-23

Description: Yani Karavasilev  Tags: Yani Karavasilev

Yani Karavasilev of Osaka University speaking about political stability and Foreign Direct Investment in the Southern African Development Community on day-2 of the joint conference between Osaka University and the University of the Free State.
Photo: Dr Marina da Silva

Recently, international delegates convened for the annual Osaka University-University of the Free State (UFS) Conference to discuss issues that affect Africa. This high-profile conference was hosted by the UFS Department of Political Studies and Governance from 22-23 February 2016. The event focused its attention on the state of South Africa (SA) as well as conflict resolution on the African continent.

Topics of discussion

Scholars and policymakers proceed to map out the political, economic, social, and educational trajectory of SA and the African continent. Some of the topics of discussion included SA politics, democracy, economy, foreign policy, race, education, and peace. Delegates also looked at foreign direct investment in the Southern African development community and organisations such as the United Nations and the African Union.

Entangled in turmoil

At the conference, Prof Virgil Hawkins of the Osaka School of International Public Policy, (Osaka University) presented a paper entitled: The role of the local media in Burundi’s 2015 coup attempt. In his presentation, Prof Hawkins analysed the impact made by Radio Publique Africaine, Renaissance, Isanganiro, and Bonesharadio stations during the conflict. Had it not been for these private radio stations, the events leading to, during, and after the coup would not have received international coverage.

Prof Hawkins explained that prior to the coup, “key private radio representatives were called to Musaka military camp” by former intelligence chief, Major General Godefroid Niyombare. He informed them about the coup plot and urged them to report on it. The government in turn accused the independent media of colluding with the coup conspirators. As a result, the radio stations were attacked, coerced to go off-air, and subsequently destroyed. Despite overt efforts by the state to suppress the media’s freedom of expression, it did not succeed.

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