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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

Reaction by the Rector of the UFS after a meeting with student leaders
2008-02-25

Reaction by the Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS, Prof. Frederick Fourie, on the agreement reached at a meeting with student leaders held on Friday, 22 February 2008

Note: This is meant to be used together with the full joint statement that was issued by the UFS management and student leaders on 22 February 2008.

The memorandum of the primes of the University of the Free State’s (UFS) residences was handed to top management on Wednesday, 20 February 2008. In the memorandum they asked for a meeting with the UFS management by Friday, 22 February 2008. Such a meeting was arranged and took place.

The UFS top management, all the residence primes as well as the house committee member for first years, the executive of the Main Campus Student Representative Council (SRC) and residence heads were present.

In contrast to what is suggested in the Volksblad report of Saturday, the discussion went off very well. There was no consternation or shouting or “emotions that ran high”. It was a civilised, decent meeting as it should be at a good university. Of course, now and again individuals spoke out strongly and very enthusiastically, but it was all decent and orderly. The contribution of the primes was insightful and well formulated.

Because the top management and I wanted to listen very carefully what the problems and frustrations were, we spent nearly five hours in the meeting. The issues in the memorandum were discussed one by one. In some cases I could take a decision immediately and finalise the matter, in other cases, the management provided information that could largely finalise a matter. A number of other matters must be investigated further.

The management undertook to respond comprehensively and in writing to all the issues raised in the memorandum by Monday, 25 February 2008. This will be handed to the primes but will not be handed to the media beforehand.
It is obvious that there are matters at the university that can be better managed and that there are problems with communication within the Student Affairs division. A major change such as the new policy on diversity places huge demands on management and the administration, and problems were to be expected. However, we understand the frustration of the students in residences.

On the other hand, students don’t always make matters easier. The strong opposition of white student leaders last year, and their unwillingness to co-operate in preparation for 2008 is well known. This year it is going better. But often student leaders take positions that are very inflexible. They also see no room for adapting old habits and simply want their own way. Their contributions are then full of statements such as “It cannot be done”. This delays measures such as the full implementation of expert interpreting services, which, for the management, is a very important measure (and which is functioning very well in certain residences). Communication from student leaders to management is also not always what it should be.

At the end of the meeting student leaders and management reached an important agreement and issued a joint statement in which they committed themselves to the integration process and to good co-operation and communication. This was an important step which is a sign of rebuilding trust. Naturally everyone will still have to work hard to build on this and to strengthen mutual trust.

The course and outcome of Friday’s discussions, as requested by the student leaders, show that issues can be addressed and resolved by means of us talking to one another. This is why it is so sad that primes and house committee members went on strike on Wednesday already and stayed in tents in front of the Main Building – leaving their residences without its leadership. This created an opening for what appears to have been well planned and co-ordinated acts of vandalism by inhabitants of residences on the campus on Wednesday.

Such vandalism is unacceptable and no one can justify it.

Fortunately, order could be restored quickly during the night and all academic activities could resume without any disruption on Thursday and Friday.

FCvN Fourie

Media Release
Issued by: Lacea Loader
Assistant Director: Media Liaison
Tel: 051 401 2584
Cell: 083 645 2454
E-mail: loaderl.stg@ufs.ac.za   
24 February 2008

 

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