Decolonising the curriculum. Contemplating academic culture(s), practice and strategies for change

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D’Sena, Peter
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University College Cork
National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education
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In 2015, students at the University of Cape Town called for the statue of Cecil Rhodes, the 19th century British coloniser, to be removed from their campus. Their clarion call, in this increasingly widespread #RhodesMustFall movement, was that for diversity, inclusion and social justice to become a lived reality in higher education (HE), the curriculum has to be ‘decolonised’. (Chantiluke, et al, 2018; Le Grange, 2016) This was to be done by challenging the longstanding, hegemonic Eurocentric production of knowledge and dominant values by accommodating alternative perspectives, epistemologies and content. Moreover, they also called for broader institutional changes: fees must fall, and the recruitment and retention of both students and staff should take better account of cultural diversity rather than working to socially reproduce ‘white privilege’ (Bhambra, et al, 2015) Concerns had long been voiced by both academics and students about curricula dominated by white, capitalist, heterosexual, western worldviews at the expense of the experiences and discourses of those not perceiving themselves as fitting into those mainstream categories (for an Afrocentric perspective, see inter alia, Asante, 1995; Hicks & Holden, 2007) The massification of HE across race and class lines in the past four decades has fuelled these debates; consequentially, the ‘fitness’ of curricula across disciplines are increasingly being questioned. Student representative bodies have also voiced the deeper concern that many pedagogic practices and assessment techniques in university systems serve to reproduce society’s broader inequalities. Certainly, in the UK, recent in-depth research has indicated that the outcomes of inequity are both multifaceted and tangible, with, for example, graduating students from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds only receiving half as many ‘good’ (first class and upper second) degree classifications as their white counterparts (RHS, 2018). As a consequence of such findings and reports, the momentum for discussing the issues around diversifying and decolonising the university has gathered pace. Importantly, however, as the case and arguments have been expressed not only through peer reviewed articles and reports published by learned societies, but also in the popular press, the core issues have become more accessible than most academic debates and more readily discussed by both teachers and learners (Arday and Mirza, 2018; RHS, 2018). Hence, more recently, findings about the attainment/awarding gap have been taken seriously and given prominence by both Universities UK and the National Union of Students, though their shared conclusion is that radical (though yet to be determined) steps are needed if any movements or campaigns, such as #closingthegap are to find any success. (Universities UK, 2019; NUS, 2016; Shay, 2016)
Diversity , Inclusion , Social justice , Higher education , Curriculum , Decolonising , Institutional change
D’Sena, P. (2019) 'Decolonising the curriculum. Contemplating academic culture(s), practice and strategies for change', Learning Connections 2019: Spaces, People, Practice, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland, 5-6 December, pp. 58-62. doi: 10.33178/LC.2019.13
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