By Anjam Sultana
One of the things I am interested in as an educational psychologist, is how educational institutions influence and shape the identities of Black and minority ethnic students. What is taught in school contributes to the sense of belonging and identity that students develop. Knowledge is not neutral and what we choose to teach reflects power differences in society.
One example is the history curriculum, which has an important role to play in the stories we tell and the knowledge we produce. This in turn contributes to how learners understand the world and their place in it. This includes an understanding of what it means to be British. Recent events, such as the Windrush scandal, have highlighted who is included or excluded from “British identity” and how quickly history could be erased or forgotten.
It has been argued by many academics and activists that the curriculum in British schools, colleges and universities is too White and, therefore, not representative of our increasingly diverse student population. Over recent years, there has been a growing movement to highlight the need to “decolonise” education and this has received increasing attention: notable campaigns have included UCL’s #WhyisMyCurriculumWhite and #RhodesMustFall. Such campaigns have argued for a move away from the Eurocentric bias in our curriculum, towards more diverse and inclusive programmes of study.
If the curriculum is to be diversified and decolonised, I believe there needs to be change at multiple levels within the British education system. A key mechamsim for this is a more representative teaching workforce. In 2015, the ‘School Workforce in England’ report highlighted the lack of Black and minority ethnic teachers in senior roles in English secondary schools. For example, it found, of the 2200 male secondary school headteachers, only four were Pakistani and of the 1400 female secondary school headteachers, only 16 were Black Caribbean. This lack of diversity in educational leadership has been found in higher education as well, and demonstrates the Whiteness of education, and arguably the knowledge produced, at multiple levels.
As well as diversifying the teaching profession, there needs to be funding and investment to diversify the curriculum. An example of this includes Our Migration Stories: a website developed by the Runnymede Trust, in collaboration with the universities of Manchester and Cambridge. This website tells the untold stories of migration to the British Isles and ‘…is dedicated to presenting the fullness and the richness of contributions made, and lives lived, by Britain’s many migrant groups’. Such resources are important in illustrating how migration has shaped the population of the British Isles and what it truly means to be British. In developing such resources to diversify and decolonise the curriculum, we should strive to teach learners to take a critical perspective that recognises that all knowledge is situated. To help Black and ethnic minority students to develop a sense of belonging, representation in education is key.
Anjam is an educational psychologist working in Dudley and an Honorary Tutor at the University of Birmingham
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