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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

Space-based information plays vital role in disaster-risk reduction
2017-02-28

Africa is one of the continents most affected by disasters triggered by natural hazards. The result of climate change is a reality that affects every human being, whether it is extreme heat waves, cyclones, or the devastation of drought and floods. Climate change can provoke injuries or fatalities and affects the livelihoods of people in both rural communities and urban areas. It triggers damage and losses in various sectors of development, such as housing, road infrastructure, agriculture, health, education, telecommunications, energy, and affects routine economic processes leading to economic losses.

According to Dr Dumitru Dorin Prunariu, President of the Association of Space Explorers Europe, space programmes have become an important force defining challenges of the 21st century. “Space observation is essential for climate-change monitoring,” he said.

Dr Prunariu was the keynote speaker at a two-day symposium on climate resilience and water that was hosted by the Disaster Management Training and Education Centre for Africa (DiMTEC), at the University of the Free State (UFS). He participated in the Soviet Union’s Intercosmos programme and completed an eight day-mission on board Soyuz 40 and the Salyut 6 space laboratory, where he and fellow cosmonaut Leonid Popov completed scientific experiments in the fields of astrophysics, space radiation, space technology, space medicine, and biology. He is the 103rd human being to have travelled to outer space.

The focus of Dr Prunariu’s lecture was: Space activities in support of climate change mitigation and climate resilience.

Description: Dr Dumitriu Dorin Prunariu Tags: Dr Dumitriu Dorin Prunariu

Dr Dumitru Dorin Prunariu, the 103rd human
being in outer space and President of
the Association of Space Explorers Europe.
Photo: Charl Devenish

Space-based information, an extra eye that can detect a way out during disasters
“For governments to support communities affected by any disaster, precise and up-to-date information on its impacts is essential as a way to respond in a timely and effective way,” said Dr Prunariu.

Space-based information (derived using Earth observation, global navigation satellite systems, and satellite communications) can play a vital role in supporting disaster-risk reduction, response, and recovery efforts, by providing accurate and timely information to decision-makers.

“With space-based information, disaster management teams will be able to take note of recently established roads that may not appear in typical maps produced by National Geographic Institutes, but which could be used as emergency evacuation routes or as roads to deliver humanitarian assistance to those who require it in remote areas."

Space-based tools help decision-makers to improve planning
“Space-based tools and spatial data infrastructure is also crucial for policy planners and decision-makers in increasing the resilience of human settlements. Using geographic data and information collected before the occurrence of major disasters in combination with post-disaster data could yield important ideas for improved urban planning, especially in disaster-prone areas and highly-populated regions.

“In the recovery process, information on impact is used by governments to provide assistance to those affected, to plan the reconstruction process, and to restore the livelihoods of those affected,” said Dr Prunariu.

“Space observation is
essential for climate-
change monitoring.”

The symposium was attended by representatives from Liberia, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe, with various international scientists from Europe imparting their expert knowledge on water and global resilience. The presence of these international experts strengthened global networks.

It isn't important in which sea or lake you observe a slick of pollution, or in the forests of which country a fire breaks out, or on which continent a hurricane arises, you are standing guard over the whole of our Earth. - Yuri Artyukhin: Soviet Russian cosmonaut and engineer who made a single flight into space.

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