What is decolonising education?

It is important that the term decolonising education holds meaning.

Decolonisation can mean a process of withdrawal of political, military and governmental rule of a colonised land by its invaders. 

In education decolonising movements started in Universities across the world and in the UK. They have been addressing education to ensure that global histories and events include the perspectives of the once colonised or enslaved people.   Many Higher Education institutions have a well-developed decolonising education programme. NEU members wanted a conference to see how such programmes might apply in primary or secondary education.

In practice, decolonising education means rebuilding a school system that supports all students, staff and teachers. A system that is responsive to the particular needs of each and every child. 

Decolonising education involves examining the limitations and biases of the current curriculum; the omissions in initial teacher education and training; and examining the political and societal legacies of colonialism and how they have influenced education policies. 

Decolonising education has several important elements such as: 

  • A complete education: a broad and balanced education in which teaching fully examines British imperialism and racism, as well as histories and cultures from around the world.
  • Understanding the history of inequalities: Colonisation’s many legacies shape the world we live in today. For example, domestic debates about migration would be completely different if they were informed by a shared understanding of Empire; the causes of the many inequalities that exist in Britain and globally would be better understood if the curriculum examined the philosophy behind, and impacts of colonisation, and the perspectives and rights of those who were colonised.
  • A sense of belonging for Black people: Black teachers are not represented proportionately, especially in senior positions. Black students do not see themselves reflected and are not represented sufficiently in the curriculum or in teaching and learning resources.  Additionally, Black students face high levels of racist bullying and stereotyping, and disproportionality in exclusions and some areas of attainment. Debates about Black children are often stereotypical and stigmatising, and Black communities are often viewed in deficit terms.
  • Challenging racism: Colonisation was both predicated on, and reinforced, racism. If all young people learnt about colonisation, we would have a better collective understanding of how race is constructed and used. This would mean we would all be better equipped to challenge racism more effectively. 

Building on decades of anti-racist work undertaken by Black members within the union, a decolonising education conference in 2019 was an invitation to bring critical thinking, reflection and inclusive pedagogies to primary and secondary schools and colleges. It aimed to:

  • Share the knowledge and skills already within the profession to increase the capacity of teachers and education staff to give every student a sense of belonging in school
  • Deepen understanding of how Britain’s colonial history and Commonwealth history affects how we think today and what this means for teaching and learning in our classrooms

The NEU is taking forward work to:

  1. Identify and develop curriculum change at all key stages and in all subject areas
  2. Use the Anti-Racist Framework with employers in schools and colleges to enable a whole school approach for inclusive education. Train reps, activists, key officers and Black members in the use of the Framework.
  • In June 2020 the NEU published its Anti-Racist Framework for schools and colleges, covering five key areas: leadership, teaching and learning, power and voice, wellbeing and belonging and community.
  • While anti-racist education is not the equivalent to decolonising education, it is one strategy to start conversations between staff about how to change your school environment.
  • Our Anti-Racist Framework is a good starting point for decolonising education as it goes beyond a focus on tackling racist bullying or representation in the curriculum. It uses self evaluation questions to enable a whole school or college approach to think about the barriers caused by racism and develop whole school responses to identify, understand, prevent, and respond to, racism.  
  1. Work on Initial teacher education so that it covers issues of anti-racism more adequately.
  2. Campaign for the Government to deliver what schools need to prevent and reduce exclusions. 
  3. Partner with organisations who are sharing good practice on how school can support asylum seekers and refugee children to thrive at school. LINK to schools of sanctuary and NEU Refugee guidance
  4. Campaign for the improved recruitment of Black teachers especially into senior leadership positions.
  5. Plan regional and national annual events to deepen educational practice, learn from research evidence and pilot ways to improve equity and inclusion within education.

Decolonising the curriculum - BBC Bitesize