On Decolonising University Curricula

On Decolonising University Curricula

Wittenborg Partner, the University of Brighton, Hosts Conference on Need for Inclusivity

Senior lecturer Bert Meeuwsen represented Wittenborg University of Applied Sciences at the recently held Education and Student Experience Conference hosted over two days by the University of Brighton in the UK. Meeuwsen said he was especially inspired by the second day's programme, which centred around inclusivity and decolonising university curricula. In fact, he is a contributor to a forthcoming book on the subject.

According to Emily Hancock from the University  of Amsterdam, in June last year over 268,000 people petitioned the UK government to make teaching and learning about Britain’s role in colonisation and slavery compulsory in the UK school curriculum. "Westminster’s response stated that schools already have ‘opportunities’ to do so. The petition was part of a wider debate about how history should be taught in schools, and the role of ‘decolonised’ curricula following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 and the resulting Black Lives Matters anti-racism protests."

The conference was opened and participants welcomed by Prof. Debra Humphris, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Brighton. One of the first speakers was Danielle Chavrimootoo from Kingston University, who argued for the importance of student partnerships in moving towards developing decolonial practices.

Despite calls to decolonise the curriculum, the sector has been slow to respond, coupled with debates around practitioners’ interest or lack of engagement in the decolonising agenda, Chavrimootoo said. "In this session I will talk about my work as an Academic Developer and my ongoing PhD research project, which aims to shed light on how decolonial praxis is methodologically, conceptually, and theoretically situated within practice and existing literature. This session will also explore possibilities for transformation working with students as change agents towards reimagining institutional curriculum reform."

What Decolonising Means for Different People

Conference participants shared their own understanding of what decolonising in education means. Recommendations that came out of the conference included:  

  • Shifting from Eurocentric perspectives
  • Including literature that reflects the diversity of the community
  • Ensuring that all students can recognise themselves in the resources used
  • Creating unity and removing stigma or exclusion
  • Listening to others' perspectives
  • Taking into consideration other world views
  • Breaking the barrier of discrimination
  • Rethinking the reading list
  • Recognising bias
  • Representation and reframing
  • Diversifying and broadening resources
  • Considering and discussing intersectionality
  • Awareness of cultural boundaries
  • Decentring white, western, often male and straight ways of seeing, understanding and interpreting the world

A team from Brighton's School of Environment and Technology (SET) also spoke about decolonising the courses taught there. "We discuss the focus for our work on decolonising the curriculum in the environment and technology area, where the knowledge base and skills are rooted in and shaped by colonial relations in very specific ways, but where there are useful opportunities for challenging cultural bias within technical disciplines," one of the speakers said introducing their presentation.  

"The approach we have taken across our various disciplinary specialisms and vocational/multi-vocational courses recognises the value of placing scientific and technical knowledge in context, by centring global contributions towards best practice, and enabling students to explore how professional/technical practices might be locally diversified due to cultural and environmental influences."

Decolonisation Toolkit

"We describe the Decolonisation Toolkit that we have developed, that is based on our experience of specific modules and on research on similar initiatives elsewhere in the UK. The toolkit invites module leaders to ask and address reflective questions around key themes of pedagogy and content. In the presentation, we show how the toolkit might work in practice, using worked examples from different modules in Building, Civil Engineering and Environmental Sciences. We argue that decolonisation of SET programmes not only enhances the quality and usefulness of the modules taught by recognising the diversity of experiences in the classroom, but better prepares all students for diverse workplaces and global professional roles."

Critical Juncture

Another team from the School of Humanities and Applied Social Sciences, which included academics and students, said: "Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic and social, political activism, we are at a critical juncture with regards to race equity and inclusivity. The government’s refusal to recognise the existence of structural racism (Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report) and its repeated attacks on decolonising the curriculum, calls for an urgent defence of a rigorous historical and factual education.  

"In this presentation, we will reflect on decolonising the curriculum over the past academic year at the university. We will present the work completed in partnership with our students as part of the Inclusive Practice Partnership Scheme where we acknowledge the complexity behind decolonising the curriculum and offer recommendations for the future. As part of our ongoing work that includes decolonising all areas of the university, we will also reflect on the institutional opportunities and challenges that decolonising brings."

WUP 24/7/2021
by James Wittenborg
©WUAS Press