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Decolonising the curriculum at York College

With UK colleges and universities working hard to achieve inclusivity and equality across study areas, our latest blog takes a look at the concept of curriculum decolonisation and what it means for our attitudes to teaching and learning at York College.

Decolonising the curriculum is a phrase and concept which has been around for a number of years but is increasingly discussed and considered since the death of George Floyd and the ensuing increase in awareness of movements such as Black Lives Matter.

Decolonisation of a curriculum simply means considering the views and beliefs of other cultures while understanding how our imperial past, in the UK and the West, may have marginalised certain voices across a broad spectrum of study areas.

The result of decolonisation will probably look different from one organisation to another, and even from college to college. But here at York College we have identified four key processes we will pursue:

  • Building an educational culture that makes space for non-Euro-centric knowledge systems.
  • Questioning why we teach the subject content we do and making these decisions clear to students. Making sure that learning is a transparent process.
  • Working towards a shift where we adjust cultural perceptions and power relations in significant and tangible ways. These perceptions may be deeply embedded after decades of teaching from perspectives rooted in Britain’s colonial past. It’s time to question these and introduce multiperspectivity (where more than one perspective is taught) in all curriculum areas.
  • Building into our teaching, where we can, the idea of ‘global citizenship’ - ie people having an idea of their place in the world, relative prosperity/power etc.

Curriculum decolonisation is definitely not about being ashamed of being British, or the destruction of knowledge, however it is about encouraging students to consider a non-British or European perspective on historical events, social structures and many other study areas. For example, if we are teaching building construction, we may ask students to think about how buildings in non-European countries are constructed and how this is different.

We will also be encouraging our students at York College to think about the origins of the knowledge, skills and interpretations they are studying. Perhaps we could ask if the latest thinking on a particular topic originates in the Global North, ie areas such as Britain and Europe, or the Global South, which may have been previously ignored or dismissed?

We would ask what groups’ voices are prioritised or left out as a result of the knowledge coming from a certain area?

According to Peter D’Sena, Associate Professor of Learning and Teaching at the University of Hertfordshire, when looking at our curriculum we should ask:

  • Is the curriculum too narrow?
  • Does the curriculum include a good representation of global voices?
  • Is diversity represented in examples and narratives?
  • Are examples used from diverse contexts (helps students identify with others’ concerns)?
  • Is the taught material relevant to all students?
  • Does the taught material take account of multiperspectivity and burgeoning research from the Global South?
  • Is the student voice involved; is there co-creation of knowledge?
  • Is change towards a decolonised curriculum seen as a moral, not just an educational imperative?

This is just a small insight into the ways we want to evolve our attitudes at York College, while acknowledging the process could take years of thinking and reflecting. However, we are starting to take small and meaningful steps which we’re confident will accumulate and build over time to embed this approach within our curriculums.

In future blogs we’ll let you know about some of the specific projects and initiatives we are putting in place at York College as we strive to decolonise our own curriculum.

References

D’Sena, P. (2021). Keynote Lecture by Peter D’Sena: An introduction to Decolonising the Curriculum. EuroClio. https://euroclio.eu/2021/05/11/keynote-lecture-by-peter-dsena-an-introduction-to-decolonising-the-curriculum/

Fairtrade Foundation. (2022). Decolonising the curriculum: classroom checklist. Fairtrade Schools. https://schools.fairtrade.org.uk/teaching-resources/decolonising-the-curriculum-classroom-checklist/

University of Bristol. (2022). Decolonising Education: From Theory to Practice. Future Learn. https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/decolonising-education-from-theory-to-practice

University of Hertfordshire. (no date). Decolonising the Curriculum. University of Hertfordshire. https://www.studynet2.herts.ac.uk/ltic.nsf/Teaching+Documents?OpenView&count=9999&restricttocategory=Guidance,+Resources+and+Toolkits/Decolonising+the+Curriculum

University of Keele. (2018). Keele Decolonising the curriculum network. Keele University. https://www.keele.ac.uk/equalitydiversity/equalityframeworksandactivities/equalityawardsandreports/equalityawards/raceequalitycharter/keeledecolonisingthecurriculumnetwork/