Decolonising the Curriculum (BA Education Studies and BA Early Childhood Studies)

Decolonising the curriculum had long been on the agenda of the Education and Early Childhood Studies team, but events over the summer and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement impressed upon us the urgency of this task. Led by Nathan Fretwell, Leena Robertson, and Lee Jerome we are coordinating a response to these events and undertaking concerted work towards decolonising our curriculum to ensure that it is as open and inclusive as possible. Initially, this involved holding a team meeting dedicated to the issue to help plan our response and whilst we are still at an early stage of this journey, we have already made some in-roads to creating a more diverse curriculum that responds to our students’ needs and reflects their lives.

This has included hosting a forum with a panel of past and present students to enable them to shape our direction of travel. Held in July 2020 this forum was attended by members of staff from within the Department of Education and the University more widely as well as present and past students. One clear take home point from the panel was the insistence that this work must be an ongoing commitment and the importance of student collaboration in the project. It was suggested that a regular forum with students to help steer the process would be one way of ensuring this.

We have conducted considerable research into decolonising work within universities, including surveying the different initiatives launched at other institutions and familiarising ourselves with scholarly literature on the subject. Drawing on this literature we have constructed a working document to guide our activities and have collected data on the ethnic profile and outcomes of students on our programmes.

As part of our work, we have produced a joint statement of intent and published this to our students; we have devised a module review document to be used by colleagues to audit individual modules, identify areas of good practice, and share these across the team; and we are also making substantial changes to several of our modules. The core second year module for BA Education Studies – Equality, Diversity and Inclusion – led by Nathan Fretwell, has been at the vanguard of these changes. Considerable effort has gone into re-designing the syllabus and diversifying the reading list. More than that, though, our intention has been to tackle this issue of racial injustice head-on and this has meant foregrounding the issue of white privilege. We feel this is particularly important given that we are a largely white teaching team serving a diverse cohort of students. Early signs are that this has been very well-received by students.

We are only at the early stages of this process and there is a resolve within the team to carry on this work in the long-term. Looking forward to the next few months and beyond, we intend to meet with students across both programmes to gather feedback on our progress so far and to discuss how we might shape this work in the future. We will follow this with another meeting with students to help devise a more concrete plan of action based on the earlier discussions. The final part of our current plan of action is to involve students in a participatory action research project based around themes and issues central to decolonising the curriculum. 

We look forward to continuing this necessary and important work.