Decolonising education – what does it mean?

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The call for a more critical look on our colonial past has been gaining momentum. Last year, statues of colonisers were torn down as part of some Black Lives Matter protests. In the Netherlands, there's a heated debate about the use of the term "golden age" to refer to the seventeenth century. In academia, too, many are striving to "decolonise education". Wondering what that means? Blogger Rafaella breaks it down.

Within more recent years, decolonising education has been gaining popularity. Although it might sound daunting, understanding the concept and what it entails is important to reflect on what its application may bring.

In their book Decolonising the University, Dalia Gebrial and Kerem Nişancıoğlu described decolonisation through two key parts. “First, it is a way of thinking about the world which takes colonialism, empire and racism as its empirical and discursive objects of study; it re-situates these phenomena as key shaping forces of the contemporary world, in a context where their role has been systematically effaced from view. Second, it purports to offer alternative ways of thinking about the world and alternative forms of political praxis.” It is important to note the decoloniality is a rather complex topic, and it’s important to recognise that there isn’t a ‘simple’ definition of the concept.

Applying this to education would entail shifting a western-centric approach to education to be more inclusive and value non-western perspectives. It would require us to critically reflect on our studies, and examine how colonialism contributed to our education. According to Aldaher, decolonising (education) would require us to “consider the needs of these marginalised communities to dissolve the hierarchies of one another.”

The push for decolonising education comes alongside increasing efforts to improve diversity and inclusion in universities. A recent report published by four University College Utrecht Students (Vicky Pinheiro Keulers, Anne Schuurmans, Harry Mills, and Gina Meimann) discusses what decolonising education entails, and the different reforms. It also discusses the backlash this movement faces. Quoting an interview, one professor said, “Colonialism happened in the past, it has no bearing on the present.” Another professor claimed, “It feels like white men can’t speak anymore.”

It is important to recognise that decoloniality: 1) Acknowledges that colonialism is implicitly manifested in our thoughts and daily lives, and seeks to deconstruct this, and 2) Does not aim to silence any voices, but rather amplify the voices of continuously marginalised groups. That being said, decolonising our curriculum is an essential step to developing education moving forward. The longer we hold onto false notions as those previously mentioned, the more difficult it becomes to become a more inclusive institution that offers a space for all voices to be heard.

That being said, it is important to examine the possibilities of decolonising our education (taking into consideration practical constraints like time and resources). Taking steps to build a more inclusive curriculum and deconstructing its colonialist aspects will pave the way to brighter educational future.

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