Ever since the subject history has been taught in the UK, there has been an argument around the lack of inclusive history that is taught. The curriculum from GCSE (secondary school level) right up to degree level has predominantly focused on British, European or what some would say “white history.” That said the small amount of history that is taught on African culture, is mainly around one thing–slavery. As much as it may surprise some slavery is not the only history Africans have. There is much more to black and ethnic history that’s positive. While slavery may be a big part of history it does not stop there.
Within the UK over the years there has been a big drive on schools to teach “British values”, and what the UK regard as being “British.” This new focus was mainly in light of radicalism. Following a number of terror attacks around the UK. The Government was concern about the number of young British school aged children, converted by radical gangs which led to extreme cases of terrorism or attempts of terrorism, with some young British children leaving the UK for distant lands, in support of radical ideas.
Teaching British values may not have been the best way to combat this problem, however that’s another argument. How it relates to the curriculum as a whole within the educational system in the UK is, does teaching British values undermine the other races present? Is it okay or even right to force the idea of British values on ethnic and minority children, while nothing is being done to meet their needs with regard to their history? Lastly, does placing further pressure on “being British” cause minority background children to disengage in school, and not know who or what they are or where they have come from? As the curriculum does not reflect part of their own history? It is no secret that black and ethnic minority children have not over the years performed as well as their non-ethnic peers academically. CTM reported on this last month, the article can be read here.
In addition there is a lot of data to suggest that while disengagement within education, and lack of achievement are present within black and ethnic minority children, one has to ask is it because the curriculum is not inclusive enough? Engaging enough? Relatable enough to our minority children in the UK?
English literature for example that is taught in secondary schools in the UK, focuses on a number of texts. However only one could be argued as engaging for young black and ethnic minority students. The GCSE Bitesize website highlights the classic To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee as a text to be used within the curriculum. However looking at the major exam board’s curriculum specification, for teachers in the UK to use to teach students To Kill A Mockingbird, is not present on the AQA exam board’s specification, as one of the twelve modern texts or poetry students can study. Edexcel the other major exam board in the UK did feature To Kill A Mockingbird, however in the new English literature specification this text as an option to study has been removed, for its first examination series in 2017. This means for the last two years black and ethnic children have had history and a possibly interesting text swiped from under them, never to return with the new style GCSEs. Both major exam boards at secondary school level do not feature this text at the time of publishing this article. But is To Kill A Mockingbird the only engaging text for minorities? It could be argued no, but at least there was one and now it’s gone. What message does this send to black and ethnic minority fourteen-sixteen year olds around the UK, who all have to study English as a core subject? And yes, you’re right in wondering if the curriculum is as damning for subject of history taught at this level, the short answer yes. Not a bean of engaging text for the minorities. Yet again minority children have been short changed.
There is evidence out there to strongly suggest that minorities are underachieving, there is evidence out there to suggest that a small pocket of teachers have low expectations of this demographic of students, and there is evidence out there to suggest that if the curriculum in core subjects (such as English) is more inclusive it may help with engagement and achievement of the minority students.
So, what is being done? One university has the right idea, it was reported earlier this year that one of the UK’s Russell group universities will actively offer a more inclusive curriculum. A move toward offering a non-British or European focused paper for students to sit, for the subject of history at the prestigious university has been announced. However, looking online at the time this article was published at the university’s undergraduate history degrees, evidence of this move cannot be seen as yet. The announcement of this change was only in May 2017, The Guardian Paper has a short report. Let’s hope the move at Oxford University is made within the next few academic years, and many other universities in the UK follow suit. At present if students wish to study African history SOAS (the only university in Europe specialising in Asian African and Middle Eastern culture and studies according to their website) is the main university. It is a shame the UK does not have more on offer in terms of African studies.
It could be suggested that the Government need to also play their role in ensuring that younger students are exposed to a more diverse curriculum, before the age of eighteen when students in the UK are deciding on what degrees to study. With earlier exposure to a more diverse curriculum in English literature and history, possibly achievement and engagement for ethnic and minority students will increase, as well as higher interest in these subjects at A-level and then finally degree level. This demographic of students has a clear need, to increase engagement and achievement. A more diverse curriculum may possibly be the way forward, by recognising ethnic and black student’s need to know who they are, and their history as well as that of Europe and the UK. History goes beyond slavery for minorities, many great leaders, creators, writers, poets, come from an African or ethnic background, which could help to engage students more. The bottom line is this should be recognised, by not just Oxford University (who is trying to increase the number of ethnic students). But all universities around the country, and at lower school also.