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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

Louzanne smashes world record despite strong wind
2017-04-13

Description: Louzanne smashes world record  Tags: Louzanne smashes world record

Louzanne Coetzee and her guide
Khothatso Mokone.
Photo: Johan Roux

Despite the terribly windy conditions at this year’s Nedbank National Championships for the Physically Disabled, Louzanne Coetzee managed to improve her world record in the 5 000 m race.

Record improved by almost 40 seconds
Last year, Coetzee, who works at the Institute for Reconciliation and Social Justice at the University of the Free State (UFS), was the first blind athlete to complete the 5 000 m race in less than 20 minutes.

Her own record in the 5 000 m race (T11 category) was 19:17.06 and with the help of her guide, Khothatso Mokone, she improved it by almost 40 seconds. The new national record now stands at 18:37.23.

Coetzee says the evening before the race the winds were terrible, and she started to wonder what would happen during her race. “Even though the wind was a bit tough, overall it was a good race,” she says.

Overjoyed by exceptional time

She says that when she heard her time was a new record, she was completely overjoyed and could not believe it. “I was aiming to run just under 19 seconds but when I heard that my time was not only a personal best but also a new world record, I was over the moon.”

The Championships took place from 31 March to 4 April in Port Elizabeth. Coetzee and Mokone will be in action in a Grand Prix in Switzerland next month.

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