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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

From music to theology: Stats Unit valuable in research process
2017-02-23

Description: Prof Robert Schall Tags: Prof Robert Schall

Prof Schall, head of the UFS Statistical Consultation Unit
Photo: Leonie Bolleurs

Whether it is analysing data on church attendance, climate change in the Northern Cape or injuries among elite female hockey players, the Statistical Consultation Unit at the University of the Free State (UFS) can assist researchers from the planning of research to publication therof.

Many students and researchers think that the time to consult a statistician is after their research data has been collected. According to Prof Robert Schall, head of the unit, the most significant contribution a statistician can make to a research project is often during its planning. Preferably all researchers should consult the unit early in the research process.

Statistical consultation service free for postgraduates

The consultation unit, established in 2014 in the Department of Mathematical Statistics and Actuarial Science, provides support to all UFS researchers. This service is rendered to postgraduate students at no charge.

“The unit can make a contribution throughout the research process, from the planning of the research project, through the analysis of research data, up to the publication of the findings. I have been involved in projects where, for example, a few very simple changes to the design of a questionnaire would have saved the researcher and the statistician a lot of trouble. It will be beneficial for researchers to have their questionnaires and study proposals (where relevant), reviewed by a statistician,” Prof Schall said.

“The unit can make a contribution
throughout the research process,
from the planning of the research
project, through the analysis of
research data, up to the publication
of the findings.”

Fascinating research topics deliver fascinating data
The professor assisted in a study for the Department of Soil, Crop and Climate Sciences to determine whether rainfall in the Northern Cape had changed over the past 90 years, potentially indicating climate change.

Other interesting projects he has worked on came from the Department of Exercise and Sport Sciences. “Who will not be fascinated by data sets on aspects of rugby, cricket or even netball? One significant finding was a predictor of injury in elite female hockey players. The PhD student identified a pre-season test which predicted the occurrence of an in-season injury with 100% specificity and 100% sensitivity. The finding was quite surprising, and, if the results can be replicated, obviously would be useful in the prevention of injuries,” he said.

This is, of course, not an exhaustive list of projects the unit has worked on. “Not in my wildest dreams would I have expected to be involved in projects coming from the Faculty of Theology, or from the Odeion School of Music,” Prof Schall said.

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