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 is currently in its second phase which is funded by the School of Education and extensively supported by 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. 

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 

Building on the pilot phase which brought together colleagues from all three departments in the School to pilot review of existing modules, during this second phase, Think Diversity, a student-led group based in the Department of Education and Social Justice, is extensively supporting this phase. Students in the committee are taking a lead in reviewing existing compulsory modules delivered as part of the BA Education programme, running survey and focus groups with minority ethnic students in the School of Education and preparing a University-wide interview series on decolonising matters.

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. 

Students on the project can also claim points for their Personal Skills Award (PSA). The Personal Skills 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.   

Dubai campus 

We are also working with Ms Sanam Yaqub, one of our colleagues based in Dubai, who is engaged with local schools in equality, diversity and decolonising matters. We are supporting local partner schools through guidance and input on a framework that could be used to review the curriculum at school level with a view to adapting our current work to the UAE context.

Research team

Previous members (Pilot phase)

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

Outputs and impact

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. 

School of Education Decolonising Education Forum 

There has been a growing interest about and engagement with decolonising education in the School of Education, thanks to many colleagues’ vision and support. This forum has been set up to create a space where staff and students can discuss about what we have learned so far, share good practices from our teaching and learning and contribute to the debates on decolonising matters. 

Publication

Naseem, J. and Zhu, H. (forthcoming). '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.

Partners

Dubai College is currently focusing on conversations about ‘race’, belonging, identity and inclusion. It has recently formed an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion focus groups with students, staff and parents to engage in conversations involving various stakeholders. These conversations will feed into a collaborative curriculum review.

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