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?
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.
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.