‘Decolonising the Curriculum’ is somewhat of a buzzword at the moment. But this is no quick fix. In fact, decolonising the university is a pretty extensive task. It requires a radical overhaul of the ways in which we produce knowledge. For an institution like the University of York, this means critical reflection on what is taught, where knowledge comes from and which voices are championed. So where are these conversations taking place? Education here at York is taking action through the form of the Decolonising Education Collective.
What is the Decolonising Education Collective?
The Decolonising Education Collective (DEC) is a group comprising staff and students in Education. In a discussion group format, we work together to support decoloniality, identifying ways to accordingly tackle barriers caused by the long impact of colonialism. As its name suggests, DEC is a collective unit with a shared goal. The group is unique in that students and staff work together.
It’s not just talk though. The group have been able to manifest conversations into tangible actions. As a result of DEC’s recommendation, the first year group project for 2021 focused on anti-racism and decolonisation in education. It was great to see freshers then applying their own experiences to the topic and getting creative with their ideas! I like the fact that that DEC is a shared space with undergraduates, postgraduates and staff bringing altogether different specialisms and experiences to the table. Knowing that our work is resulting in actual changes makes me feel excited for the future. I’m pleased Education is making decolonising the university such a big focus.
My Internship Experience
DEC recently employed me as one of three student interns tasked to carry out work on behalf of the group. Describing the experience in three words, I would say it was informative, revealing and enriching. With Covid-19 still a threat, we had to carry out the work from home using online platforms such as Zoom to communicate.
Our overriding aim was to carry out research that identified good practice in education curricula and pedagogy. We researched previous literature and current understandings of decoloniality, and subsequently identified practices other universities have undertaken to decolonise their programmes. This work was overwhelming at times, with heavy reading material and content that was sometimes distressing to digest.
The decolonising endeavour is so important, we knew we had to push through and absorb this knowledge to feedback. Our research cumulated in an extensive report with various subthemes including:
- Reference to Indigenous Worldviews
- Perspectives on Education from the Global South
- Decolonial Approaches to Pedagogy
- Different Ways of Being and Knowing
Consequently, we provided a wealth of resources and encouraged all staff to use what we had created. The impact? Staff were impressed with our findings. The Head of Education reached out to congratulate us, offering his ideas of how the report could be implemented into future curricula. Recently, we learned of the construction and adaptation of new modules, informed by our suggestions. What a feeling to know that your work has made a positive influence! I am so proud of what we achieved, and I hope our research remains useful.
Why is decolonising the university so important?
As educators, it is vitally important that we are ensuring racial equality among our generation of students and the next. But it’s not just education specialists who should care. Perhaps because it does not affect your everyday life you may not think decolonisation affects you, but it does! From the books assigned to the staff demographic of your course, colonial legacies affect every aspect of your degree programme.
I acknowledge that groups like DEC and student internships are only part of the solution. Ultimately, there are wider forces that impact on the decolonising the university. But there can be no apathy here! Every action that supports decoloniality is an act towards breaking the underlying structures that perpetuate racism. Ask yourself what your course staff will do to support this endeavour. If you feel like your voice is not heard, speak out. Challenge biases and encourage decolonial conversations.
As a student, are you aware that the education system facilitates institutional racism and colonial thinking? It’s so entrenched in our understanding of education that you may not realise you have these thoughts. Campaigner Deepa Naik says “the university is not racist, the university is racism”. So as a student, will you make a difference?