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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

Chemistry postgraduates tackle crystallography with eminent international researcher
2017-04-04

Description: Dr Alice Brink  Tags: Dr Alice Brink

Department of Chemistry senior lecturer, Dr Alice Brink(left),
hosted outstanding researcher, Prof Elspeth Garman (right)
from the University of Oxford in England to present a
crystallography lecture.
Photo: Rulanzen Martin



“Crystallography forms part of everyday life.” This is according to Prof Elspeth Garman, eminent researcher from the Department of Biochemistry, University of Oxford in England, who was hosted by Dr Alice Brink, Department of Chemistry at the University of the Free State (UFS) Bloemfontein Campus. Prof Garman presented a lecture in the Department of Chemistry, titled ‘104 years of crystallography: What has it taught us and where will it lead’. She also taught the postgraduate students how to refine and mount protein structures in cold cryo conditions at about -173°C.

What is Crystallography?
Crystallography is the scientific technique which allows for the position of atoms to be determined in any matter which is crystalline.
 
“You cannot complete Protein Crystallography without the five key steps, namely obtaining a pure protein, growing the crystal, collecting the data, and finally determining the structure and atomic coordinates,” said Prof Garman. Apart from teaching, she was also here to mentor and have discussions with UFS Prestige Scholars on how to face academic challenges in the professional environment.

Discovery of the first crystal structure of a TB protein

Prof Garman successfully determined the first crystal structure of a Tuberculosis protein (TBNAT), a project that took about 15 years of research. In partnership with the Department of Pharmacology at Oxford University and an outstanding PhD student, Areej Abuhammad, they managed to grow only one TBNAT crystal, one-fiftieth of a millimetre. They also managed to solve the structure and publish it.

Dr Alice Brink, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Chemistry, says, “It’s an incredible privilege to have Prof Garman here and to have her share her wisdom and knowledge so freely with the young academics.”

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