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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

Inaugural lecture: World on verge of agricultural revolution
2008-05-19

A changing economic climate and new technology will see to a number of interesting changes in the livestock industry in the next few years. This is according to Prof. Frikkie Neser of the Department of Animal and Wildlife and Grassland Sciences, who delivered his inaugural lecture at the UFS on the subject: “The quest for a superior animal”.

Prof. Neser focused on the future of animal breeding in the next few decades.

He said the world, but especially South Africa, stand on the verge of a revolution in the agriculture sector. The whole production scenario will probably change. The high fuel and food prices are the two biggest factors that will play a role.

“Increasing fuel prices opened the door for the production of bio-fuel. The fuel industry is in direct competition with humans and the livestock industry for the same resource that result in unbelievable high prices for maize, sunflower and soya. These prices can further increase with the worldwide shortage of food,” he said.

More profitable breeds could take the place of existing breeds because of the big increase in input costs, he said. “Selection for more effective, and not maximum production, will became more important.

“There are also indications of pressure on feed lots. If this industry downsizes, it could lead to a total turnaround in the beef industry. The feed lots prefer a later maturing animal that can put on a lot of weight before fat is laid down. If this industry declines, early maturing breeds and some of the synthetic breeds, as well as crossbreeding with early maturing breeds, will play a more prominent role in the meat industry.

“This will also lead to a decline in the total number of animals in order to prevent overgrazing. This can result in an increase in imports from neighbouring countries and especially Brazil, where production costs are much lower.

“One way to increase the profitability of meat production is to utilise niche markets. There is world-wide a shift to more natural products. The demand for grass-fed beef drastically increased. According to research it is healthier than meat from feed lots and usually free of hormones and antibiotics. If factors such as traceability are put in place, this could be a very profitable niche mark for the South African meat industry,” he said.

Prof. Neser also said: “In order for breeding societies to survive they need to increase the number of members and the animals that are being registered. This they do by replacing the word stud with recorded animals. Hereby they open the door for excellent commercial animals to become part of the seed-stock industry. Another benefit is that especially in the smaller breeds more information becomes available, resulting in more accurate breeding values.”

Prof. Frikkie Neser.

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