Decolonising Our Education

Leona Vaughn Andy Davies

The School of Arts have teamed up with WoWFest2021, with students from across the School previewing events from this festival of radical writing, taking place throughout May. 

Olivia Farley (Modern Languages and Cultures) previews Decolonising Our Education, Friday 7 May, 7.30 pm. Tickets £8/£4 concessions.

After the reignition of the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ campaign in Oxford following the Black Lives Matters protests last year, the governors of Oriel College voted to take down the statue of Cecil Rhodes, reversing the decision they made in 2016 to let it remain. But the removal has been delayed for a second time, with ‘no date set’ for their report to be published. Arguably, one of the UK’s most revered institutions still wishes to cling onto the remains of their colonial past. 

Colonialism and its legacies are so deeply ingrained within our society that our institutions still have a long way to go; they may never be fully decolonised. Even after the events of 2020, the exam board Pearson Edexcel decided to remove not only the study of jazz music from their A-Level Music specification, but also the only black composer, Courtney Pine. Pearson Edexcel only decided to reinstate Pine after protests. The conversation about decolonisation must start in schools. The study of history in schools must place a greater emphasis on learning details of Britain’s colonial past, such as its role in the slave trade and India-Pakistan partition, two events that still have major significance and consequences for our society today.

Are universities doing anything to help? At the end of April, the University of Liverpool, alongside several other British universities, hosted a collaborative event with Monash University (Australia) called ‘Intersectional, Transcultural, Decolonial? Challenges and Opportunities for Modern European Languages in the Anglosphere’, and the University of Bristol has released a freely available FutureLearn MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) called ‘Decolonising Education: From Theory to Practice’.

There has also been a push for more BAME representation in module reading lists, especially within the humanities departments. Many universities’ Languages departments have been criticised for lack of diversity within their reading lists, such as French departments across the UK focusing on authors from Metropolitan France only, rather than across the wider and more diverse Francophonie which, due to France’s colonial legacy, expands to Pondicherry in India, the Caribbean, and Canada. More and more university modules are being developed to combat these omissions. For example, within my department, Modern Languages and Cultures, there is an Italian cultural module open to students from across the faculty which focuses on Italy’s colonial legacy, called ‘Decolonial perspectives on Italy, Africa, and the Mediterranean’. 

The Black Lives Matter protests have accelerated conversations surrounding ‘decolonising the curriculum’. Many UK universities are promoting the campaign ‘Why Is my Curriculum White?, which was founded at UCL and was inspired by the original ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ campaign at the University of Cape Town. These initiatives are vital to ensuring that decolonisation continues to be at the forefront of academic discourse. This event’s speakers – the writer, activist, and Founder and CEO of The Black Curriculum Lavinya, along with two lecturers from my university, Dr Leona Vaughn and Dr Andy Davies – will discuss the progress that has been made throughout the last twelve months, and how we can continue to keep up the momentum behind the movement to decolonise our curricula.

Part of WoWFest21: celebrating 21 years of radical writing. Check out the full programme here