Reflections on Decolonising the Curriculum

I posted this as a Twitter thread – but am popping it here too – and to remind me that I want to expand on the of details of classroom practice.

I have been thinking, sat in Teams meetings obviously, about decolonising practice in Universities. I think I understand why the most common way to refer to it as ‘decolonising the curriculum’ – as the content is a vital component. Whose story gets told? Who is acknowledged? Who isn’t? All education involves editing the discipline and its past, making a set of conscious or unconscious discriminations, to make a vast set of topics fit a finite programme. From reading lists to lecture topics, the content is obviously central. Most of the online guides/toolkits are about how to ‘decolonise your curriculum / content / topics’.

Decolonising in education isn’t just the curriculum. Yes – *what* we teach is the core to many, but *how* we teach, and *who* teaches can potentially reinforce inequality, solidify existing privilege and cut off the potential closing of attainment gaps.

[Digression – of course – the form and content aren’t so neatly disaggregated in reality. What we teach and how we teach it intertwine in complex ways in the production of meaning, learning and student competencies]

There *is* some literature on decolonizing practice in terms of pedagogy. ‘Reinventing critical pedagogy as decolonizing pedagogy: The education of empathy’ by Michalinos Zembylas – is an interesting take on decolonising the idea of ‘empathy’ with reference to Freire et al. But like much of the ‘decolonising pedagogy’ literature, does not have the practical edge that much of the ‘decolonising the curriculum’ material does.

Closer to home, I looked to the Decolonising SOAS Learning and Teaching toolkit While there is some concern about how toolkits might make the decolonising process overly ‘tick-box’ and therefore complied with at only a surface level, I approached the SOAS one with my usual optimism. Phew – after the section on your content, and the ways you might reflect on and amend that, it moves on to pedagogy. I like on p14 is stating: “Questions of inclusive pedagogy can be difficult for academics in particular to grasp, given that many of them have been high-achievers academically, may experience the present systems to be broadly fair and meritocratic, traditionally fit a different kind of demographic profile, and are now so used to academic practices and language that most of it seems totally transparent and natural.” – It then makes a set of suggested adaptations – which I think are good.

Of these – the one that struck me was: ‘Manage the classroom in order to generate participation and confidence amongst all students; proactively disrupt patterns of dominance emergent in classroom discussions by restructuring the conversation or workflow’

A twitter thread isn’t the place to fully explicate the variety of ways a tutor might do this – but it seems full of potential to me. To find ways to ensure all voices are heard. To de-centre to tutor’s voice and disrupt conventional power dynamics. Some of these are relatively straightforward to implement, allowing students to contribute/questions via a variety of means (speaking in a debate, comments via a Padlet, collective group replies via post-its, asynchronous Q&A contributions, etc – all as part of the same discussion. Others are controversial – such as progressive stacking ( I’ll try and write more about the options, and the benefits, pitfalls and disadvantages of each, in a lengthier piece – but I really started this thread to make a simple point.

Decolonising the curriculum is only part of the process. The ‘how’ of our teaching has huge impacts, and should be a nexus of decolonisation that receives as much of our reflection and recalibration of practice as the ‘what’ we put into our curriculum

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