Decolonising the curriculum and supporting BAME children at school is a critical step towards tackling systemic racism, argues Jamal Elaheebocus
The Black Lives Matter protests which have swept the world in recent weeks have reignited the conversation about education, what young people are taught and, more importantly, what they are not taught. This debate has been going on within universities for several years. The “Why is My Curriculum White?” campaign at UCL, which highlights the lack of diversity within reading lists on many degrees, was founded in 2014, partly off the back of a NUS Black Students’ survey which found that ’42 per cent did not believe their curriculum reflected issues of diversity, equality and discrimination.’
The movement is gaining ground very rapidly under the Black Lives Matter movement as people again question what we are taught as children and how that influences us. The fact that the protests are mainly made up of young people makes the topic all the more relevant, as we are the ones going through an education completely unrepresentative of society today.
The ruling class have repeatedly told us not to erase or rewrite Britain’s history. If they do not want to do that, then why are we not being taught the truth about the British Empire, the role of the colonies in the world war and other mostly black history which is neglected? Decolonising the curriculum would mean we finally learn the truth about British history and more importantly would allow us to start to understand why the Windrush generation were treated so unfairly, why the residents of Grenfell Tower were living in an extremely dangerous building and why we have statues of slave traders and imperialists on our streets.
One step towards this is diversifying reading lists, which are usually made up of white, mostly male, authors and writers. In my time at secondary school and sixth form, I have read Arthur Miller, Shakespeare, Robert Louis Stevenson, Mary Shelley etc. I have studied poems which explicitly glorify the British Empire and the notion of imperialism and I have studied the philosophy of notorious white supremacists Kant and Hume. Yet my only exposure at school to BAME writers has been John Agard’s ‘Checking out me History’, which ironically talks about the lack of black history in education.
Similarly in history, a large amount of time was devoted to the world wars in both primary and secondary school. Never did any of us learn about the role of soldiers in the colonies in the World Wars and throughout, the wars were presented as plucky Britain defeating evil.
Young people in Britain are being deliberately denied access to a large part of British history. This starts as soon as a child enters education and the deception continues throughout school life. Education is no longer about educating young people, allowing them to explore different and new ideas but instead reinforces the same old ideas that the establishment want us to hear so that we maintain the status quo into the next generation. The education system denies young people the right to question British history, so-called British values and the right to explore different perspectives. It does this deliberately so that those who do not know any better believe that Britain is a symbol of democracy and freedom.
It is clear to see why so many BAME students feel disillusioned by education. They are not taught about their own history, how it was the Windrush Generation who built this country after World War 2, and that it was the exploitation of people in colonised countries that allows us to live in one of the richest countries in the world today. They are not shown how valuable they are, instead they are taught that the only people who did anything noteworthy were white men.
Another step in decolonising the curriculum is changing who teaches a new curriculum. Increasing the number of BAME, particularly black, teachers is critical to ensure BAME children see that they can achieve just as much as their white counterparts, who they see all over television and throughout politics. According to the government’s figures, black people make up just 22% of state school teachers, while 86% of state school teachers are white British. This also means most of the time BAME children do not have teachers around them who understand what they are going through at school or at home or who can truly help them when they face racism at school or in the wider world.
The PSHE curriculum also does nothing to assist BAME children either. For me, PSHE looked at sexuality, cyber-bullying, mental health and so on (all important issues of course), but never racism. I suppose being anti-racist is not considered a “British value” by Gove and the Tories. But the effect of this is devastating. It leaves BAME children abandoned, receiving no support and being left to feel as if their suffering is not significant or even wrong.
However, clearly there is a need for it to be covered considering the rampant racism in the education system. Black children are discriminated against from the moment they enter the education system, from being subject to unfair hair rules to being three and a half times more likely to be permanently excluded, which was revealed by the Department for Education three years ago. This is not new; it has been going on for decades and the lack of action fits with the lack of action on racism in general.
Decolonising the curriculum and supporting BAME children at school is a critical step towards tackling systemic racism. Children and young people need to, and have a right to, know about the true history of their country, they have a right to know where the wealth in this country came from. We have a right to be able to think more openly and freely about race and racism in Britain today. BAME children in particular have a right to feel valued in society, represented in the education system and not have to deal with racism from such a young age.
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