School of Anatomy. Faculty of Health Sciences.
Decolonising the curriculum is a process which requires commitment and time. Starting the process can be daunting specially in STEMM subjects as examples are less obvious than those in non-STEMM subjects. These are the ten tips I would recommend based on my experience with decolonising the Applied Anatomy Programme. Just remember, every discipline is different and there is no universal guide.
1. Knowledge is power
Gain an understanding of the influence of colonialism on education in general and your discipline. Get familiar with the terminology and understand the importance of anti-colonial efforts in creating a truly inclusive learning environments. Good resources to start with are: Decolonising Education: From Theory to Practice on Future Learn, Tackling whiteness in the Academy, Decolonising the curriculum: it’s time for a strategy, Dismantling race in higher education: Racism, whiteness and decolonising the academy, Coloniality is far from over, and so must be decoloniality and the BILT blog.
2. You cannot do it alone, get people on board
Confronting racial inequality that may arise from your discipline can be uncomfortable. It becomes easier to handle with good peer-support. Also, there are many myths and misconceptions associated with decolonising STEMM subjects which can result in resistance from colleagues. It is important to create safe spaces for discussion with colleagues. Academics might shy away from decolonisation because they do not feel confident in their knowledge and understanding. Raise awareness and empower people to get involved. If a team is already established within your school, join the team and familiarise yourself with the teams’ efforts.
Once you established your team, decide on what decolonisation means to your school/programme. Getting support from senior leaders in your school is also important as they can be strong allies when you talk to your colleagues.
3. Capture the current efforts
Academics views of decolonisation should be closely examined as they can affect curriculum design, development, implementation and evaluation. Academics are an important stakeholder which views on decolonisation can be a driving force of change. Capture the current efforts and make sure you identify the barriers and challenges your colleagues face that prevent them from engaging with anti-colonial efforts. This will help you in creating a strategy appropriately tailored to addressing these challenges/barriers.
4. Involve students
Student voice is important and should be fostered. Working in partnership with students can be beneficial for both students and academics. Decolonising the curriculum affects all students and not just those from a non-white background. Involving students in collecting data and reflecting on the current curriculum, or as co-creators of new learning materials and/or curriculum advisors will provide you with great insight on how the curriculum is being experienced.
5. Critically look at your current practices
Map the geopolitics of your learning materials (lecture and seminar notes, content and topics covered, diversity of the case studies and/or examples…etc), reading lists, assessments, and learning spaces. Look into what and how topics/concepts are being taught and who is teaching them. Attempt to recognise issues of representation and inequality (whose perspective is being presented and whose being ignored?).
6. Fact finding
Explore examples of best practice specific for your discipline. Create a record highlighting examples of current good practice. Also, find examples highlighting the work of scientists from different backgrounds and cultures. It is easier to understand how decolonisation can be applied to your discipline when case studies and examples are identified.
7. Putting things together
In light of the data you collect, create your strategy. Work with your team and identify areas within your curriculum that you can: highlight the importance of teamwork and collaboration as well as the strength of a diverse team members, discuss the lack of diversity in data and research within your discipline, explore the diverse history of the discipline, examine the impact of knowledge on different cultures, consider how knowledge was developed and whose agenda did it serve. Decolonising goes beyond diversifying aspects of the curriculum. It involves questioning every facet of the curriculum, actively disrupting colonial modes of knowledge and making room for alternative views and perspectives. You may also use the enthusiasm that comes with special annual events (e.g. Black history month) to highlight alternatives and drive change.
Manchester Metropolitan University have created an excellent guide with questions to prompt thinking for the curriculum design, content and delivery. Also, SOAS toolkit provides good questions to start the discussion.
8. The next generation of scientists
Decolonisation involves challenging mindsets of what is taught and how it is delivered. We, as educators, are creating the next generations of scientists who (hopefully) will not be products of an educational system that only delivered the Eurocentric view. In the future, students themselves will be agents of change and will continue the journey. We should work to equip them with skills that enable them to pay attention to issues of pedagogy and power relations within and beyond the classroom.
9. Evaluate the impact
Although difficult, it is important to evaluate the impact of anti-colonial efforts. Do students recognise the anti-colonial narrative presented in the curriculum? How is this narrative being used and what are the possible effects on students? What are the possible effects on academic staff? Did staff change their practice as a result of these efforts? These are some questions that you can use as measures of impact.
10. Shout it out loud!
Decolonisation is multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary process. This process will take time. Reflect on your approach and share what you learnt with others. Communicate ideas and examples to your colleagues through your School’s newsletter and/or bulletin and try to empower more people to get involved. Present your outcomes during staff meetings/assembly and consider writing a blog for BILT. Collaborate with members from other institutions and share good practice.