Skip to main content

With the current lack of BAME representation in reading lists and academia, it could be argued that the UK’s education system is failing to serve its purpose – to broaden young people’s horizons whilst also pursuing knowledge and understanding. 

In recent years, there has been a significant shift in British society towards inclusivity. The ‘Why is my curriculum white?’ movement, organised by UCL students, and similar movements across the UK have led the debate on a more inclusive and diverse curriculum. In 2015, the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ campaign launched in South Africa and caught the attention of universities across the globe from Oxford to Harvard. The term ‘decolonising the curriculum’ can be simply described as rebalancing the eurocentric nature of education, with its focus on Western thinkers, to include a broader and more representative range of perspectives.

A report carried out recently by the Royal Historical Society found that racial and ethnic biases still exist within the UK curriculum. Countless sociological reports since 1988, when the national curriculum was introduced under Margaret Thatcher, have reached similar conclusions. For example, Stephen Ball, Professor of Sociology of Education at UCL, introduces the idea of an ‘ethnocentric curriculum’ which teaches the “mythical golden age of empire” and “past glories”. 

The impact this has on students is profound. The majority of BAME students lack the opportunity to learn about the rich history of their country or culture and are restricted to learning about their people as ‘savages’ and inferior as they were portrayed under the British Empire. According to a report carried out by the National Union of Students, 42% of BAME students did not believe their curriculum reflected issues of diversity, equality and discrimination. The report also highlighted a frustration that their courses did not take into account a diverse range of backgrounds and views. Gradually, these students become disengaged and uninspired, dismissing school as a place of learning.  As a result, many academics believe the ethnocentric nature of the curriculum, among many other factors, has a negative impact on educational achievement

Furthermore, it must be noted that the dismissal of non-white European academics excludes a range of perspectives from the discussion. By decolonising the curriculum, academic and public understanding of the past and the legacy of the empire can be enriched instead of restricted like it has been for decades. 

However, some professors have dismissed the argument that the curriculum needs to be decolonised. Doug Stokes at the University of Exeter claims that decolonising the curriculum would be  “a big mistake” as “the last thing our universities need are to have ‘male, pale and stale’ voices sidelined.” It must be made clear that ‘decolonising the curriculum’ does not mean a complete wipeout of all white European thinkers and academics such as Plato or Aristotle. As John Muldoon, professor at the University of Exeter, recommends, the writings of John Locke may still be taught but the fact that he was a proud supporter of slavery in America should also be noted. Furthermore, the recent surge in hate crimes suggests that education about race still has an important role to play in the curriculum. 

In an era of rapid globalisation and an increasingly multicultural Britain, an inclusive and diverse curriculum is needed now more than ever. The content of the current one maintains a narrow historical perspective that should have been eradicated a long time ago. We must not repeat the same mistakes.

Regina is currently undertaking a week’s work experience at Bright Blue. The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.