Skip to main content

Decolonising Curriculum - Sam Perkins

15 September 2022

I believe the concept of “decolonising curriculum” can support two key areas in further education: a pledge to our learners to be more inclusive, and a pledge to our community to address “skills in industry”, which is a key area of focus highlighted in the government’s recent white paper and in Ofsted’s inspection framework.

There has been extensive research in decolonising the curriculum that has discovered the content of the curriculum in western further and higher education provision often reflects and maintains a colonial legacy through the presentation of a white, western intellectual tradition which is not only superior to other forms of knowledge, but universal.

To decolonise a curriculum, therefore, is to break down the existing dated traditions and rebuild with diversity, inclusivity and stakeholder engagement at the forefront of design. The successful impact of decolonising the curriculum would be to improve inclusivity and industry standards.

Historically, the theory of decolonising curriculum addresses primarily ethnic representation in higher education. However, by applying the same principles to FE and to stakeholder engagement, we can inspire curriculum leaders to incorporate a more diverse range of employers. Not just multiplicity of stakeholders/employers in terms of background (ethnicity, origin, location) but also in terms of size and longevity (new, small micro-businesses).

For instance, the organisation I proudly work for is the EKC Group, which is based in East Kent, and a report revealed around 90 per cent of East Kent businesses are small in size (9 people or less). Successfully decolonised curriculums would provide new “gaps and space” to work with a greater diverse range of employers, addressing the needs of the community (highlighted in white paper) and enabling the focus of curriculum to be on industry skills (Ofsted’s inspection framework guidance).

Dr Monica Chavez Munoz from the University Of Liverpool’s Centre for Innovation in Curriculum Education said: “To diversify the curriculum is to challenge power relations and to reflect about the content of your modules and how they are delivered. It is important to highlight that a “diverse” curriculum may look very different in Medicine, Physics and English, and that it is only you as the expert in the field who has the ultimate power to change or leave content as it is.”

Decolonising the curriculum has been in currency since at least 2011. The recent prominent movement originates from the University of Cape Town, South Africa. There are now hundreds of Colleges and Universities worldwide reforming their curriculum. A piece of research that stands out to me was conducted by SOAS University of London in 2019, and titled Decolonising the Curriculum: A Global Education.

Curriculum leads reviewed reading lists and introduced diverse authors and scholars. Lecturers were tasked with getting in diverse guest speakers. Students were challenged to debate the influence of curriculum historically from western influences. Together, they devised projects that looked at involving Eastern and Southern countries from Asia and Africa specifically, whether it was engineering buildings in Africa, the economic landscape in Singapore, or the education system in Brazil. Everyone was encouraged to incorporate diversity in curriculum design.

It has also been reported that, in a drive to decolonise courses and increase ethnic minority success, a number of institutions are introducing “open book” papers where students can consult written notes and textbooks.

But how does this research link to Ofsted and Curriculum Developments? According to AoC’s Eddie Playfair, “Ofsted’s Education Inspection Framework has re-focussed on the curriculum, seeing it as broader than the qualification content with more emphasis on personal development and supporting students to ‘develop and discover their interests and talents’.” A decolonised curriculum creates gaps and space for further diverse, inclusive representation, inspiring learners to discover their abilities. A decolonised curriculum creates gaps and space to link with a multiplicity of employers.

In the EKC Group, we highlighted a need to implement partnership work with employers which aligns with the reformed focus detailed in the white paper. We will be encouraging our programme leaders to decolonise curriculums and rebuild with diversity and inclusivity at the forefront of design, especially in partnership with local stakeholders.

The white paper pledges to give employers a “central role” in designing “almost all” technical courses by 2030, to “ensure that the education and training people receive is directly linked to the skills needed for real jobs”.

The EKC Group has launched a strategic project called Curriculum 2030, which will set the strategy for the group’s future curriculum. Curriculum 2030 aims to ensure that the Group’s provision addresses the economic and community needs of East Kent and we need innovative strategies to do so. The strategy of decolonising curriculums will target an array of stakeholders/employers in terms of background (ethnicity, origin, location) and of size and longevity (new, small micro-businesses).

Here's some top tips on strategies from decolonising the curriculum research to improve curriculum’s inclusivity, diversity and industry-ready status:

  1. New Provision

New provision such as HTQs, T Levels and Supported Internships provide a fresh opportunity and blank canvas to design curriculums with diverse and inclusive approaches and in partnership with a multiplicity of employers. Per the white paper guidance, these can be designed in collaboration with industry standards.

  1. Enrichment

The DfE now mandates that all study programmes should include work experience and non-qualification activities, which complement the other elements of the programme”. The danger is viewing enrichment activities as some form of “bolt on” – an afterthought once the important business of completing a qualification is dealt with. By decolonising the curriculum, it can be rebuilt with inclusive enrichment and valuable industry-focussed enrichment woven into the design.

The views expressed in Think Further publications do not necessarily reflect those of AoC or NCFE.