9.6 Decolonizing the Curriculum

Author: Amrita Narang

Decolonisation of curriculum

What is decolonisation of curriculum? Why are we talking about it?

Educational spaces are powerful sources of knowledge creation, production, and, re-production. For centuries, education has and still does, play a vital role in forming socially constructed and accepted norms that govern our thoughts, feelings, attitudes, values, and beliefs. Therefore, it is not surprising to see that foundation of education philosophy, which we see and read today, is mostly created by white men, those belonging to the western world, propagating their way of understanding the world as the right way.

Decolonisation of curriculum sits within the larger premise of curriculum transformation. Transformation entails a gradual process of growth, by re-thinking, re-framing, and re-constructing the current design and principles of the curriculum. Curriculum transformation is shifting contours of practice and relations of all those involved in the process, and those will who benefit most from the outcomes of it. Therefore, one may say that the primary need is to recognise transformation and decolonisation entails change in consciousness that prepares leaders, academics, academic developers, and students to dismantle any dominant hegemony or hierarchies in education theory and practice (Gorski, 2008). It is about considering how different frameworks, traditions and knowledge projects can inform each other, how multiple voices can be heard, and how new perspectives emerge from mutual learning (Keele University Manifesto, 2019)

Decolonising the curriculum, therefore, is a complex process- intellectually and institutionally, requiring continuous adaptations to ever changing landscape of our knowledge space, and student diversity. Broadly speaking, decolonisation of curriculum is one aspect of decolonising the university space. Decolonisation of curriculum requires academics and academic developers to challenge Eurocentric conceptual frameworks whilst confronting practices that mirror global inequities. This will allow for creating space for non-dominant forms of knowledge. Describing  the  project  of  decolonising  as  one  committed  ‘to  dismantling  dominant  hegemony, hierarchies, and concentrations of power and control’, Paul Gorski stresses that ‘good  intentions’  do  not  necessarily  prevent  the  replication  and  reification  of  dominant  hegemonies (2008). Decolonisation needs to be seen as a process that is intrinsically troubling process, about asking uncomfortable questions that interrupt entrenched ways of thinking, knowing, pedagogical practices, and curriculum designs.

Policy attention to decolonisation within the curriculum has mostly been in the name of inclusive practices, internationalisation, and embedding multi-culturalism. Although all of these are pertinent, with some overlap with decolonisation, decolonial practices promote critical, culturally responsive and equity-sensitive curricula with the subject field. Internationalisation of curriculum often run the risk of homogenising effect, in a way emulating ways of dominant knowledge. On the contrary, decolonisation is not about taking any knowledge out of the bigger picture; instead it is about creating an equal space for representing voices of knowledge production that have long been in the margins.

What can I do to support course teams to start thinking about and supporting decolonisation?

As academic developers, one is entrusted to support implementation of the education strategy of the university. This implies providing enhancement workshops, course team support, and teaching of postgraduate courses on advance practices within higher education. Each of these are opportunities to re-consider how one can work in productive ways, in partnerships with lecturers to decolonise cultures and practices within and outside the classrooms.

However, one needs to bear in mind that the endeavour of decolonisation and to decolonise comes with its own invisible challenges. Academic developers and academics in historically white institutions may be predominantly white; schooled in and taught in western traditions, they may continue to have a congruent experience of the university space. Thus, they may not have felt the need to re-structure curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment practice. As a result, the discourse of decolonisation will need to be careful with a consultative approach.

To begin with, consider designing workshops that lead to creating awareness about decolonisation. This may offer a safe space for academics to explore what decolonisation means to them, and to their specific subject areas.

Whilst designing the workshops you may want to reflect on -As an ED/ AD-

  • how do I support course teams to design a curriculum that focuses beyond Euro-centric knowledge?
  • how do I support academics to think beyond the 'white supremacy' in their own practice?
  • how do I support academics to nurture a 'sense of belonging' for ALL students on their program? ( this has an overlap with Inclusive Practice)
  • how do I support reflective and reflexive approach in my own practice and in those on teaching teams

 

Are there any examples of good practice out there?

What other scholarly resources may I refer?

The article explores what is the meaning of decolonisation, what does it entail, why is the need for the decolonisation, the importance of rethinking how curriculum is conceived, and outlining some possible ways of decolonising the university curriculum. The purpose is not to provide a set of answers but to open up ways of (re)thinking the university curriculum.

  • Guess, T. J. (2016). The Social Construction of Whiteness: Racism by Intent, Racism by Consequence.Critical Sociology, 32(4), 649-673. https://10.1163/156916306779155199
    • Although set in an American context, understanding of whiteness alludes to what does one mean by ‘white’ in the curriculum.
  • Vorster, Jo-Anne & Quinn, Lynn. (2017). The "Decolonial Turn": What Does It Mean for Academic Staff Development?. Education as Change. 21. 31-49. 10.17159/1947-9417/2017/853.
    • A powerful paper that explores the task of decolonisation of knowledge, power, and being including university spaces; and what does it mean for academic developers and academics – who may need to re-think their practice as teachers.
  • NUS (2011). Race for Equality - A report on the experiences of Black students in further and higher education.https://www.nus.org.uk/PageFiles/12350/NUS_Race_for_Equality_web.pdf
  • NUS (2015). Why is my curriculum white?.https://www.nus.org.uk/en/news/why-is-my-curriculum-white/ 

Finally, decolonising the curriculum is about reflecting on our shared assumptions about how the world operates around us. Racial hierarchies in the past have informed many of our practices, and this clearly needs to be interrogated. Second, decolonisation also emanates from location and identity of the writer and frameworks used. Thus, one needs to re-consider how this influences the perceptions and perspectives of each generation of students. This implies that academics should broaden the scope of engaging with many perspectives and not just what have been prescribed by a selected few. Decolonisation of curriculum will allow for diversified knowledge and intellectual rigour.

References

Keele University (2019). Keele decolonising the curriculum network.  https://www.keele.ac.uk/equalitydiversity/equalityawards/raceequalitycharter/keeledecolonisingthecurriculumnetwork/#keele-manifesto-for-decolonising-the-curriculum

Gorkski, Paul C. (2008) ‘Good Intentions Are Not Enough: A Decolonizing Intercultural Education’ Intercultural Education 19 (6), 515-525.

Narang, A. (2020) Expanding notions of pedagogy to empower change: https://www.advance-he.ac.uk/news-and-views/expanding-notions-pedagogy-empower-change?_cldee=c2FyYWgud2FsbXNsZXlAYm9sdG9uY2MuYWMudWs%3d&recipientid=contact-34c1ccd7c3d5e711bf4b00505689a200-cca3e56cd5a34020ad6c888bc78b52a8&utm_source=ClickDimensions&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Consultancy%20-%20Race%20Equality&esid=bd34c89e-0371-eb11-a812-0022481a641b

Resources

Bird, S. (2021) Padlet collection of resources on decolonizing the curriculum https://padlet.com/sara2_bird/wshifciwuvo2

The Dark Side of British History- George Monbiot

Charles, E. (2019) 'Decolonizing the Curriculum'. Insights 32 (1): 24.https://insights.uksg.org/articles/10.1629/uksg.475/

The Decolonize University of Kent Collective (2020) Towards Decolonizing the University: a kaleidoscope for empowered action. https://counterpress.org.uk/publications/towards-decolonising-the-university/

Hinton, D. (2021) Blog/Twitter thread  https://twitter.com/hintondm/status/1169614377034690560?s=21

Muldoon, J. (2019) 'Academics it is time to get behind decolonizing the curriculum', The Guardian, March 2019  https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/mar/20/academics-its-time-to-get-behind-decolonising-the-curriculum

Swain, H. (2019) 'Students want their curriculums decolonized: are universities listening?', The Guardian, January 2019 https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/jan/30/students-want-their-curriculums-decolonised-are-universities-listening

University of Victoria (n.d.) Decolonizing in an Educational Setting https://www.uvic.ca/research/centres/youthsociety/assets/docs/briefs/decolonizing-education-research-brief.pdf

https://cris.brighton.ac.uk/ws/portalfiles/portal/6443632/Decolonising_the_curriculum_MONCRIEFFE_32_pages_4th_July.pdf

https://cris.brighton.ac.uk/ws/portalfiles/portal/7753714/University_of_Brighton_Decolonising_the_curriculum_Issue_2_December_2019_Moncrieffe_et._al..pdf

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Comment on “9.6 Decolonizing the Curriculum

  1. This a good starting point for taking a first look at decolonizing education. I would also recommend "Decolonizing Education" by Marie Batiste.

    Battiste, M. (2013). Decolonizing Education: Nourishing the Learning Spirit. UBC Press; Purich Publishing.

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