‘Crucial for future’

2019-06-05 06:00
Prof. Melanie WalkerPhoto: Supplied

Prof. Melanie WalkerPhoto: Supplied

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Epistemic justice is crucial for a sustainable democratic future, according to Prof. Melanie Walker, senior research professor in Higher Education and Human Development at the University of the Free State. She also serves as chairperson of the South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI).

Walker’s strong sentiments about the importance of education to sustain a democratic future follows findings in her recently published research 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.

In her the research Walker 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. “Education is at the centre of human life and has the potential to be a crucial support for democratic life,” says Walker.

According to Walker, 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.

In a young democracy like South Africa’s, inclusive public reasoning becomes even more essential in order to achieve equality, uphold rights and sustain democracy as enshrined in the constitution, thereby improving people’s lives.”

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, Walker argues for a foundational epistemic capability to shape the formal education landscape.

She also emphasises the quality in education by fostering inclusive public reasoning (including critical thinking) in all students.

Walker maintains such an approach would contribute to what Sen calls the ‘protective power of democracy’ and shared democratic rights, which, he argues, are strongly missed when most needed.

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