Decolonising Higher Education Must Be A Priority

Education must be reconfigured to teach colonial histories, not celebrate them.

In recent months, education on structural racism has begun to fill a large space on social media. This is a starting point, but if the same education is not reflected in school curriculums we risk these resources and narratives once again being buried under the unjustly centralised histories that seem to dominate our textbooks. Black histories are both underrepresented and misrepresented in history lessons, from early years well into higher education practices. The versions of historical timelines that we are taught are predominantly focused on white, elite males who have hugely benefitted from the oppression of Black people. So why are these the stories that are prioritised in the education system? Why are these the narratives that we have come to celebrate?

The teaching of colonialism is often glorified to be a story of celebration and patriotism rather than one of injustice and violent oppression. It has become increasingly evident that higher education curriculums perpetuate issues of colonial injustice by entirely misrepresenting Black voices, hence decolonisation needs to be prioritised now more than ever. This frightening and dominating colonial narrative in higher education neglects to equally represent Black voices and fails to confront how imperial practices have influenced the education system even in the 21st century.

Across the board, reading lists need to be reconfigured to not only include Black and minority authors but to go beyond and use these materials to scrutinise stories of imperialism and colonialism. In doing so, the narrow and unjust historical lens that has dominated the education system for so long will become dismantled. It is imperative that resources are made accessible, that campaigns and petitions are encouraged and that higher education boards ensure that curriculums accurately reflect the importance of these issues, ensuring they are confronted in a productive and informed way. 

Decolonisation is a daunting task and one that requires the cooperation of not just school and university boards, but also of individuals. It is the responsibility of students to critically question the ways in which we are taught and to confront racism in the teaching environment. By questioning and interrogating why colonial histories have been prioritised and actively criticising these ingrained educational practices, we can take charge of dismantling educational racism.

When putting decolonisation into practice in the context of the higher education system, we need to avoid ‘erasing’ history because the danger here lies in that without acknowledging the past, we cannot change our behaviours and therefore transform the future. In articulately curating higher education curriculums in these ways, there is hope that productive conversations will be stimulated and decolonisation will become not only a priority but a leading force in the movement for equality. 

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Education must be reconfigured to teach colonial histories, not celebrate them.