Hiya! I’m Ethel, BILT’s ‘Decolonising the Curriculum’ Student Research Fellow for 2023/24. I’m currently a fourth year undergraduate at the University of Bristol studying BSc Education Studies (very meta, I know).
The first time I went to university, I dropped out. Originally at the University of Oxford studying BA Economics and Management, I pursued a degree that would guarantee financial stability for myself and my family. My parents and older brother immigrated to the UK from Malaysia in 1998, and growing up within an under-served community in the outskirts of London, I found my normalcy of Free School Meals and bursaries confronted starkly by the inequities underscored at Oxbridge. Two weeks before the start of second year, I withdrew from my course, taking a year out to consciously pivot towards the study of education. I’ve also been lucky enough to study abroad in California, majoring in the social sciences, finding myself especially enthralled in classes such as ‘Developing Teachers of Colour’, ‘US Race and Ethnic Relations’ and ‘Comparative Social Movements’.
Professionally, I’m invested in social change implemented through alternative forms of organising, oftentimes grassroots civic engagement led by local community actors. I take an interest in research surrounding education, social mobility, and adjacent social and public policy. I’m predominantly involved in localised social scientific research in collaboration with the VCSE (voluntary, community, and social enterprise) sector, grounded in frontline activity – particularly in conjunction with the socio-economic, political, and cultural lived experiences of inner-city, working class, immigrant, BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnicity) youth.
Aside from writing sentences with far too many commas, I also co-direct Team UPside, a social mobility charity (charity no. 1199166), that was founded in 2019 to address educational inequalities, particularly in underserved communities. Our mission is to empower young people with a confident sense of purpose and potential in education. We operate across three landscapes: online, offering free, culturally relatable educational resources; locally, providing mentorship and revision programmes; and regionally, delivering school workshops and assemblies. Our vision is to uplift students most in need at every secondary school in the country.
What I didn’t give much thought back in 2019 however, was how through this work I would end up encountering many questions about how to acknowledge, mitigate, and ultimately change the narrative of how marginalised populations are classed and raced, and consequently overturn entrenched systemic inequities.
As a Student Fellow for BILT, I’m interested in taking some of these elements and engaging with them in the context of decolonising the curriculum for HEIs (higher educational institutions). With the University of Bristol specifically, I also work within the Student Inclusion Team as a Race Inclusion Advocate. We’re dedicated to decolonising student experience via faculty negotiations, focus groups, hosting cultural events, amongst some other projects. I’d love to configure more collaboration between different departments within the university where there might be synergies, as well as with Bristol as a city in itself. Bristol is far more than just its affluent student populated areas, and my work at BILT would do well to highlight that and amplify local voices. It’s well-recognised that our institutions credit certain knowledges over others, and discredit certain ways of knowing and learning over others. Keeping this in mind, I’m approaching this role in a way that is sensitive to disbanding the narrative of a dichotomy between grassroots and management. HEIs should be co-designing solutions with local actors and those outside of the academy, to ensure decolonisation learns from and involves the wider community.
I firmly believe in the power of education to transform young lives, acting as an impetus for upwards mobility – the question is how can we reimagine education to serve students of all backgrounds? How can we marry theory, policy, and praxis?