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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

Boyden observatory celebrates its achievements
2004-10-05

The red carpet will be rolled out and champagne glasses filled tonight when the Boyden Observatory outside Bloemfontein will launch the first phase of the new science centre.

This phase, which was completed earlier this year, consists of a new auditorium, reception area and paths which connect educational visiting points on the Boyden terrain.

“Over the past two years the Boyden Observatory has been re-sited as a research, educational and public facility. The new facilities are now being utilised for educational and public programmes. The 1,5m Boyden telescope has also recently been upgraded and is used for research purposes,” says Dr Matie Hoffman from the University of the Free State’s (UFS) Department of Physics, who is responsible for the management of the centre.

“The Boyden Observatory is a unique facility of the UFS - we are one of the few universities in the world who has its own observatory,” says Dr Hoffman.

“The main purpose of the science centre is to create enthusiasm for science amongst the public. The centre also has a great educational function and focuses specifically on the improvement of the quality of science education in the Free State,” says Dr Hoffman.

Fund-raising for the planned second phase of the science centre, which will consist of interactive in- and outside exhibition areas, will also start tonight. “After the completion of the second phase the Boyden Observatory will probably become the most accessible and public-friendly observatory in the country and a great asset for the Free State Province,” says Dr Hoffman.

A small robotic telescope, which will be controlled from the University College Dublin in Ireland, will also be installed at the Boyden Observatory this year.

“Just as this year is a significant one for the UFS with its centenary celebrations, so it is also a significant one for the Boyden Observatory. The Harvard University in the United States of America started with the construction of the original 1,5 m telescope in its original form 100 years ago, the telescope was put in place at Boyden 70 years ago and Mr Uriah Boyden – the person who donated the money with which the Boyden Observatory was constructed, was born 200 years ago,” says Dr Hoffman.

The first phase of the science centre was built with funds sponsored by the AngloGold Fund, the Shuttleworth Foundation, the Charl van der Merwe Trust and the Lila Theron Trust. Donations from the Friends of Boyden Observatory and other individuals also contributed to the success of the project.

Those who are interested in educational tours of the science centre can contact Dr Hoffman at (051) 401-2322.

Media release
Issued by: Lacea Loader
Media Representative
Tel: (051) 401-2584
Cell: 083 645 2454
E-mail: loaderl.stg@mail.uovs.ac.za
5 October 2004

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