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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

Andrew Mellon Foundation renews ongoing support for UFS projects
2017-04-10

Description: ' Andrew Mellon Foundation - Badat Tags: Andrew Mellon Foundation - Badat

Dr Saleem Badat and Annemia van der Heever.

The University of the Free State (UFS) was first awarded a grant by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation (AWMF) in 2015 to fund several projects between 2015 and 2016 under the International Higher Education Strategic projects fund. The programme’s director, Dr Saleem Badat, visited the UFS on 23 March 2017 as part of his annual first-quarter feedback sessions, with not only the UFS but other universities around the country that benefited from the programme. Top of the agenda was a meeting with principal investigators of projects funded by the foundation, to discuss the UFS’s institutional priorities for funding, alongside the university’s management, to discuss possible intra-institutional projects to be undertaken with other universities.

During his visit, Dr Badat met with Prof Nicky Morgan, UFS Acting Vice-Chancellor and Rector, as well as the AWMF representative, Annamia van der Heever, Director: Institutional Advancement. He discussed future plans with managers of the Programme for Innovation in the Artform Development, #Movements project, Inclusive Professoriate Grant and the Curriculum reform programme which involved seven other universities.  

The AWMF, through its projects, is instrumental in developing and maintaining strong higher education institutions that produce knowledge and high-quality graduates, and advances social justice. The projects further aim to deepen and broaden public understanding and support for the arts and humanities, diversity and inclusion. “The Foundation each year presents universities with wonderful opportunities to improve teaching, learning and research in the humanities. We are working hard with the Faculty of Humanities on possible submissions for 2017,” said Van der Heever.

During 2017 between $10.8 million and $12 million will be available for grants by the Foundation’s International Higher Education and Strategic Projects programme. The Vice-Chancellor’s Office will continue to serve as a contact point and administrative support for UFS projects currently funded by AWMF. Institutional Advancement will assist project leaders to draft submissions to the Foundation this year and in the future. In 2018 AWMF will celebrate 30 years of involvement in supporting higher education in South Africa. 

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