Decolonising the Curriculum: promoting inclusivity and accessibility in teaching and learning in the School of Education

With the rise in student voices around the world, calling for a decolonisation of learning and teaching, the Department of Education and Social Justice in the School of Education, decided to address these issues upfront.

The Decolonising the curriculum project was set up in March 2020 as a space for reflection and collaboration between staff and students which would in turn promote a more inclusive and accessible curriculum. For staff, the aim is to have critical reflections on pedagogy, drawing on students’ experiences of learning; and for students, the aim is to empower them as active learners as they review the curriculum they engage with.

This project also aims to support efforts in reducing the award gap. Available data from the College of Social Sciences, in the University of Birmingham, points to the existence of an awarding gap for students who are known to be at risk of remaining behind. These are minority ethnic students; mature students; students with disabilities; first generation students; students with dependants and international students. Decolonising the curriculum can contribute to addressing this gap by focusing on experiential learning, sense of belonging and recognition as an individual learner.  

The project completed its pilot phase between March 2020-August 2021. It completed its third year in summer 2023 thanks to funding by the School of Education and extensively supported by a group of students called Think Diversity.

Main aims

What do we want to achieve? 

By decolonising the curriculum, we aim to cultivate an environment which would expand our existing curriculum, by way of embracing intellectual contributions of all authors, white and non-white alike. It aims to create an academic space in which all students can feel that they belong to, and identify with; a space where stereotypes, prejudice and patronising views are broken down to encourage intellectual stimulation for all. This commitment to capture the richness of knowledge in both the global North and South will not compromise academic standards or freedom as the aim is not to replace ‘white’ books by ‘black’ ones. On the contrary, the aim is to offer educational resources which reflect the plurality of views in the production of knowledge for the benefit of both white and minority ethnic students as it will help everyone question what is taught and how it is taught, opening the possibility to question and challenge any knowledge. This in turn will ensure that we provide equal opportunities to, and guarantee the success of, all our students. 

The project is linked to the Birmingham Award. The Birmingham Award is the University of Birmingham's recognised employability programme for undergraduate students. It enables students to develop, recognise and articulate your skills in preparation for real-world recruitment processes. 

But what does decolonising the curriculum means? 

‘Decolonisation’ can mean different things to different people in different contexts. The Cambridge Dictionary, for instance, refers to ‘decolonisation’ as ‘the political independence received by European colonies (i.e. a country or area controlled politically by a more powerful country) in Africa and Asia after World War II’. From a ‘decolonial’ lens, this very definition calls for a questioning as the wording (‘independence received’) undermines the reality experienced by millions of people, their liberation struggles against oppression, and the fights they won against Eurocentric domination. In other words, independence was never ‘handed-over’ but was fought for, over several centuries. As such the term ‘decolonisation’, although contested, calls for a different ‘way of thinking about the world which takes colonialism, empire and racism as its empirical and discursive objects of study’. 

How are we working to decolonise our curriculum? 

Birmingham campus 

Years 1 and 2

Building on the pilot phase (20-21) which brought together colleagues from all three departments in the School, during the second year (21-22), Think Diversity reviewed existing compulsory modules delivered as part of the BA Education programme. The modules and programme are reviewed considering all aspects of the curriculum according to Inclusive Curriculum Framework, focused on accessibility, inclusivity and employability. This review involves both staff, leading the module, and students participating in the module. 

Think Diversity also prepared a report based on a survey and focus groups with minority ethnic students in the School of Education. The report’s recommendations were presented with an action plan to the School’s Senior Management team in November 2022. The report was prepared by the then leads: Ms Xiaqiuzi Han (now at Columbia) and Ms Ziqi Li (now at UCL). See details below if you’d like to access the report. 

Year 3 

Last academic year, Think Diversity have been interviewing students and staff across the University on the meaning of decolonisation for the University of Birmingham. They prepared and launched the video (see outputs and impact below) and a decolonisation ‘toolkit’ during a university-wide event (see event information below).

Dubai campus 

We are also working with colleagues based in Dubai, who are engaged with local schools in decolonising matters. We are supporting the local schools through guidance and input on a framework that could be used to review the school curriculum with a view to adapting this to the UAE context and age of students. We are also working with colleagues on campus who are working on decolonising the curriculum for our Dubai students.

Research team

Think Diversity is a student-led committee set up in May 2022 which welcomes all undergraduate and postgraduate students who are interested in creating a more inclusive and diverse teaching and learning environment in the School by making the decolonial agenda central in their endeavours. The Committee lead this year is Ms Miffy Mok. To contact the Committee members please email:

Previous members (Pilot phase)

  • Professor Zhu Hua
  • Dr Catherine Darnell
  • Dr Julia Howe
  • Dr Catherine Darnell

Outputs and impact


Naseem, J. and Zhu, H. (2023). 'Inclusive Curriculum Matters: what we have learnt from decolonising the curriculum in education studies' in Pulsford, M., Morris, R. and Purves, R., What is Education Studies? Thinking about learning and teaching on undergraduate education programmes. Routledge.


Access the reflective toolkit (PDF). It is aimed at staff interested in embedding decolonial agenda in their teaching and learning activities, resources and other material.


Belonging in the School of Education A decolonial insight into the experiences of teaching and learning among minority ethnic students 

Think Diversity prepared a report based on a survey and focus groups with minority ethnic students in the School of Education. To access the full report, please contact the project lead: Dr Jawiria Naseem


Decolonising Methodologies, Curricula, and Institutions across Time and Disciplines. 

Dr Jawiria Naseem was invited to present the decolonising curriculum project at the Institute of Advanced Studies in April 2022. Jawiria discussed 1) how (or whether) activists of decolonisation appeal to previous decolonising initiatives in the field of education, and, if they do, how this shapes their current decolonising activities; and 2) how activists of decolonisation have addressed the challenge of confronting the apparently value-neutral analytic tools of research and teaching in the field of education. 

Partner organisations and sponsors

Dr Jawiria Naseem has secured funding from the Society for Research into Higher Education to research decolonisation initiatives in UK universities. 

Recent event

June 2021 

On June 1st 2023, we brought students and staff together from across the University to consider what decolonising education means for the University of Birmingham. Featuring a talk from our keynote speaker, Dr Reza Gholami, panel discussions with staff and students, and student presentations, the event provided an important insight into the perceptions, experiences and potential obstacles to providing a decolonised teaching and learning environment at the University of Birmingham.

View the keynote speech and the full event below.

View the Keynote speech from Dr Reza Gholami

What does decolonisation mean for the University of Birmingham?’ (longer version)

Previous events

21 June 2021

Decolonising the Curriculum - What students say

In this first forum, we heard short presentations from our own PG and UG students who have either done extensive research on decolonising matters as part of their assignments or projects and/or have been involved in decolonising project. The presenters discussed: 

  • What decolonising education means for them as a student, a teacher, a researcher, an administrator or a manager;
  • What key issues do we need to consider in decolonising education.   

The clip above showcases all presentations from our students.

2 November 2020: Launch event Decolonising the curriculum  

  • Keynote: Head of the School of Education,  Professor Deborah Youdell
  • Presentation: Dr Kenisha Linton (University of Greenwich) 

Watch the Inclusive Curriculum Workshop 

15 December 2020: Gallery Walk Presentation of the project  

Landscape mapping involves working with a digital platform called Mural where we created a visual representation of the different elements of our practice and networks where we feel we are ‘making a difference'.  

Visit the Decolonising Landscape Map