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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

SA and Africa must avoid going over the edge
2017-02-26

Description: Prof Hussein Solomon, SA and Africa must avoid going over the edge Tags: Prof Hussein Solomon, SA and Africa must avoid going over the edge

From left are: Prof JM Moosa (Centre for African
Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India),
Prof Hussein Solomon (Senior Professor: Political
Studies and Governance at the UFS),
Prof Virgil Hawkins (Osaka School of International
Public Policy Studies, Osaka University in Japan), and
Prof Ajay Dubey (Centre for African Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru
University, India).
Photo: Jóhann Thormählen

South Africa and the rest of Africa might be standing on the edge of a cliff and therefore conversations are necessary to avoid tipping over. According to Prof Hussein Solomon that was why a conference to address these issues was recently co-hosted by the University of the Free State (UFS).

Prof Solomon, Senior Professor of Political Studies and Governance at the UFS, said the continent and country needed to make the right decisions. “These right choices refer to the correct economic, political, and social policies.”

International delegates attend
Delegates from India, Japan, Zambia, Lesotho and South Africa attended the conference, called A View from the Precipice: Critical Reflections on South Africa and Africa in the 21st Century, on 13 and 14 February 2017 on the Bloemfontein Campus. It was co-hosted by the UFS Department of Political Studies and Governance, Jawaharlal Nehru University (India), Centre for the Engagement on African Peace and Security, Southern African Centre for Collaboration on Peace and Security and Osaka University (Japan).

Prof Solomon said external actors provided a useful mirror as they gave an idea of how Africa and South Africa were viewed from abroad.

Creating a knowledge-sharing forum
“It is not just about sharing knowledge, but creating a forum for sharing knowledge,” said Prof Virgil Hawkins from the Osaka School of International Public Policy Studies.
Prof Hawkins, who is a visiting professor at the UFS, said a conference like this was one of the cornerstones of the relationship between the UFS and Osaka University. Prof Solomon is also a visiting professor at last mentioned university.

Highlights of conference
Prof Solomon said some of the discussions included that “the ANC government is in crisis and is dragging the rest of the country with it”. Another participant said that 80% of the jobs in the next 20 years had not been created yet – which put the relevance of tertiary education in the spotlight.

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