Decolonizing (in its denotative meaning) would bring to mind the picture of a particular group of people, or a territory obtaining freedom from the clutches of foreign authority. Now, relate this to a notion like education. What comes to mind? Remember, there’s no literal territory dominated here, but there is plenty of mental, emotional and intellectual landscape at stake.
Decolonizing Education – What You Should Know
Is this merely another branch of diversity and inclusion or is there more to the name?
Decolonizing education means creating a schooling system that supports staff, teachers, and students irrespective of their ethnicity, race, religious, sexual, and cultural disposition. A system where no specific sect is treated with preference and opportunities are equal for all. To decolonize education is to create a structure that allows for diverse representation of participants in its curriculum, individual ownership of one's educational experience, and equitable distribution of educational benefits for people of diverse backgrounds.
In reality, a decolonized educational system is still an objective we are yet to achieve as a society. Stories like this or this one where students are under pressure for being Black or "dark" is rampant, and shows how campaigns for decolonizing educational policies and programs to curriculum and resources is necessary.
A decolonized educational system considers and adequately addresses the needs of every student, teacher, and staff irrespective of individual demographics.
Why is it important to decolonize the curriculum?
To answer this question, it is important to understand what a colonized curriculum is, and appreciate the socio-cultural benefits of diversity and inclusion.
A school curriculum that gives more "attention", "prestige" and significance to Eurocentric contributions to subjects like science, philosophy, history, arts, etcetera, but leaves out the contributions of individuals without European descent is colonized. It is similar to filtering out the achievements of one group in favour of the other.
Why are the tangible results of people of colour rarely available in the academic curricula? Why do we see more and more white-based ideologies "preached" to students, with the marginal representation of minority thinkers? This situation describes a colonized system.
That kind of system leaves us with little benefit as a society. Why?
Think about this: multi-ethnic representation in the organization workforce creates a platform for the development of different perspectives and interesting ideas that positively impact the achievement of that organizations’ objective.
In an educational setting, a decolonized curriculum taps into the overflowing potential of participants (students, teachers, and staff) who can deliver through unique voices and ideas. Generally, in a diverse educational environment where inclusion is encouraged, students can creatively develop a solution to problems using ideas that were previously foreign to them.
Unfortunately, this stream of potential is hindered by how a colonized curriculum and policies like the exclusionary zoning policies in America affect how people of colour can access resources, thus, indirectly influencing educational performance. According to one article by Linda Darling-Hammond, “the U.S. educational system is one of the most unequal in the industrialized world, and students routinely receive dramatically different learning opportunities based on their social status”
That is not a true reflection of a democratized society. This is the outcome of a deliberate ideology to suppress particular groups, so that another could dominate.
By changing the foundation of the North American education system and the industrial revolution philosophy upon which it was built, decolonized curricula would allow for the inclusion of voices from the minority. These new voices would intersect, deflect and counteract the prevailing ideas in current curricula in order to deepen the breadth of experience, history and truth available to learners and educators. Simply put, it is placing ideas from people of colour next to those of white colonizers of past who have dictated what history, science and culture was written.
The big question becomes…
How Do You Decolonize Your Curriculum?
When the entire curricula that influence your ideas (or that you advocate for as a teacher) barely reflect your thoughts or those of your students, it becomes easy to unintentionally get the message that your ideas are insignificant. The direct result is a low-morale environment with fewer opportunities for the minority.
To decolonize the educational curricula, you must begin by recognizing the diversity of the audience. After which you can:
Adjust the teaching materials to contain ideas from multi-cultural perspectives
Involve minority voices during the creation of course materials to diversify and improve the perspectives and realities highlighted therein
Partner with community groups that develop anti-racism campaigns to involve institutional, state, and local levels of policy making.
Create assessments that allow the active participation of minority students to share unique ideas and experiences.
According to an article by NCTE member Michael Seward, teachers must also be politically conscious and able to see the truth behind the damaging legacy of colonization.
Critical Race Theory (CRT) and a Decolonized Educational Curricula
Critical Race Theory describes racism as an organized framework (keyword: organized). The idea is that race is not a natural effect of a diverse society, but an artificial construct designed to oppress people of colour, creating a social, economic, and political divide between whites and non-whites.
The principles of Critical Race Theory are:
The centrality and intersectionality of racism.
The challenge to the dominant ideology.
The commitment to social justice.
The importance of experiential knowledge
The use of an interdisciplinary perspective
The five principles of CRT have an objective to remove the oppression caused by this organized framework. It serves to cancel out social injustice and the marginalization of people of colour in places of opportunity (like the schooling system). CRT’s interdisciplinary perspective appreciates ideas from diverse fields to create awareness for the minority. It gives people of colour a voice to share their real-life experiences.
In the educational system, this is what we need. Inclusion of ideas from this diverse community of students! Introducing the tenets of critical race theory will fight colonized educational curricula from the roots by advocating the introduction of ideas from the pool of multi-ethnic individuals present in educational systems.
Will a Decolonized Educational System be achieved?
The aim of this article goes beyond informing the reader about decolonizing educational systems. Its objective is to stimulate thought, learning, and action. To achieve a decolonized educational system will require the participation of key stakeholders in educational systems worldwide. From implementing teacher training to course content to encouraging active participation of students, it is not a far-fetched objective.
Find out how Tough Convos can help your organization embrace diversity and inclusion with a bespoke approach that matches your business needs or support progressive change in your community such as decolonizing education. You can simply book a call with us or sign up to attend our next monthly Tough Convo event.