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Decolonising Curriculum: Narrowing or Broadening?

clock iconCreated At:01 November, 2017
write iconCreated By:Ola Elwassify

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A group of undergraduates at the University of Cambridge sparked the debate on whether to decolonise British education by including more black and minor ethnic voices. The debate did not stop at Cambridge's gates, but it spread rapidly across UK universities, academics, and alumni, which has collected numerous followers split between the 'against' and the 'for' notions.

On the one hand, some see that teaching specific literature like A Clockwork Orange and The Color Purple will only promote violence among students and they should only be exposed to the good literature that could academically help. On the other hand, some view this as putting a limitation to the students’ knowledge and that the university is the right time for students to engage in race, gender, and sexuality debates. The concerns were raised by a small group of students studying English. Hindering and tabooing what students can read will do more harm than good, as their reading list is currently elevated white, male authors at the expense of others.

The professor of postcolonial and decolonial studies at the University of Sussex, Gurminder K Bhambra, is astonished that this argument was not raised before by Cambridge students. She said that “Some of us have been working in this area for many, many years.”

“However, the debate the students have started is welcome and important, if it helps more people to understand that this is not about narrowing, it is about broadening.”

Dr Priyamvada Gopal, a teaching fellow of Churchill College, with a specialist interest in postcolonial literature and theory, said “Broadening the syllabus means putting different writers and texts in conversation with each other, not ‘downgrading’ or even eliminating a single writer. It’s a request, as I understand it, for more representation of ethnic minority and postcolonial writers but for the purposes of thinking about these works alongside the existing texts.”

“It is also not just about adding texts but about rethinking the whole question of Britishness, Englishness and what they mean in relation to the empire and the post-imperial world, questions of race, gender, sexuality, and so on. There’s also a sense that the curriculum should have an expansive sense of ‘Britain’ and English literature itself.”

Rianna Croxford, who has just graduated in English, said: “I enjoy the works of Donne, Hardy and Milton as much as anyone else, but I don’t think my education in ‘literature’ ends there.”

However, Jo Johnson did not yet make any comments on the hot debate that spread across UK universities.


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