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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

Farmers need to plan grazing better, says UFS expert
2017-02-21

Description: Prof HO de Waal Tags: Prof HO de Waal

Prof HO de Waal, affiliated researcher
at the University of the Free State,
says farmers should save grazing
during the summer months to have
fodder available in the winter and
early spring.
Photo: Theuns Botha,
Landbouweekblad

“Farmers should save veld during the summer months to have grazing available for animals especially in the winter and early spring. Farmers should also adjust livestock numbers timely and wisely according to the available material in the field,” says Prof HO de Waal, professional animal scientist and affiliated researcher in the Department of Animal, Wildlife and Grassland Sciences at the University of the Free State.

He offered this advice as a result of the sporadic and scattered (scant) rainfall of the past couple of summers. “In retrospect we know that this kind of precipitation started in about 2014 and has continued in subsequent summers. In February 2015, it was clear that a major fodder scarcity was developing.”

Existing research methods serve as source of current knowledge
Dr Herman Fouché (Agricultural Research Council) has conducted research on the impact of climate, especially rainfall, on the growth of grass. Sophisticated computer technology developed as far back as the 1980s to – through modelling – predicts the impact of climate on field production during the growing season.

The impact of climate, and more specifically rainfall, on field production has been known to animal and grazing scientists for a long time. Prof De Waal used the modelling results to determine the impact of rainfall on grass as a feeding source for animals.

“Information that emerged from this old research programme could therefore be applied directly to animal production,” says Prof De Waal.

Adjust livestock numbers to availability of grazing
In the summer rainfall areas of South Africa, grass usually grows from the end of August and early September. The growth process is dependent on the transfer of soil moisture, as well as on rainfall during the winter and early spring.

“Livestock numbers should be balanced throughout the year (according to the nutritional needs and production of the animals) with the availability of grazing material – be consistent, not only during certain seasons or when drought is imminent,” is Prof De Waal’s advice to farmers. “Farmers are also encouraged to carefully reduce the number of livestock on grazing and to rather focus their attention and limited resources on the remaining breeding herds (cows and ewes).”

“It is tragic, but unfortunately many farmers will not survive the effects of recent years. Similar climatic conditions will occur, with the same tragic consequences for man and beast. Better planning has to start now.” The assistance of private institutions, individuals, as well as the government, during the severe droughts is gratefully acknowledged.

Spineless cactus pear as solution for scarcity of animal feed
Prof De Waal says spineless cactus pears could be used as a feeding source during droughts. “The effects of a severe drought, or major animal-feed scarcity, are still prevalent in large parts of the subcontinent.” This may act as a catalyst to utilise spineless cactus pears as a feeding source and to be incorporated in the feed-flow programme for livestock on natural grazing.

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