In June 2020, the Vice Chancellor, Professor Robert Van der Noort commissioned the Race Equality Review, which I co-led with Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Parveen Yaqoob. The aim of the review was to obtain a better understanding of race equality at the University for both staff and students. The review explored the following themes: representation, student experience and attainment, staff experience and advancement, and culture. As lead on student experience and attainment, it was it was very important to consider a focus on decolonising the curriculum.
"In my view, decolonising the curriculum starts by reviewing your teaching and learning practices to make sure a diverse range of students are represented. It is far more than adding ethnic minority authors to your reading lists; it is embedding diverse viewpoints, experiences, beliefs, and frameworks throughout your teaching content and teaching methods. It is also making sure that assessment methods reflect the changes in teaching content."
As part of the Race Equality Review (2021), I led on creating the recommendation for decolonising the curriculum at the University of Reading, which states:
Establish a ‘task and finish’ group, which includes students, staff and Reading University Student Union Officers and leads on creating an institutional definition of ‘decolonising the curriculum,’ as well as preparing guidance on how to achieve it.
In order for our work on decolonising the curriculum to be effective, I strongly believed that we needed to create our own institutional definition for decolonising the curriculum and to ensure the subsequent guidance is related to our specific context at Reading. After publication of the review report in May 2021, I established the Race Equality Charter Teaching and Learning subgroup for our July 2022 submission to the Race Equality Charter. Early conversations in this subgroup highlighted the preference to establish a ‘working’ group rather than a ‘task and finish’ group. Colleagues reflected on how a ‘task and finish’ group, although time limited and potentially effective due to this, may not be sufficient as the work involved in decolonising the curriculum will take time and some argue, may never be complete. Therefore, I established a decolonising the curriculum working group in January 2022 which has a membership of students, academic staff, professional services staff and Officers from our Student’s Union. Early conversations within the working group suggested that an institutional vision is more appealing as it is not as restrictive as an institutional definition and so, we reframed the tasks as creating an institutional vision for decolonising the curriculum and creating resources to support with this process.
As someone who is passionate about lived experience and listening exercises, the first few meetings of the decolonising the curriculum working group focused on hearing from members about their own experiences of, and views on, decolonising the curriculum. This was an exceptionally helpful exercise for me as I learnt a lot about varied perspectives on what is needed to decolonise the curriculum and how we might achieve this. It also supported my thinking that we need to create an institutional vision that works for us. For example, colleagues shared with us the importance of decolonising the curriculum and that this needs to be university-wide and inclusive of a variety of staff and student views. The approach to decolonising the curriculum needs to be supported by networking opportunities to further support decolonising the curriculum within UoR’s specific context and considering local communities. With the support of colleagues working in our Student’s Union, we also received insights into how students perceive decolonising the curriculum and what is important to them. One central point was the need to see that lecturers truly care about decolonising the curriculum and that this is evidenced in the work completed throughout teaching sessions, modules and programmes. Throughout our listening exercises, it was very clear that decolonising the curriculum is important, but we also need to make sure we have clear expectations of what is required and support colleagues by creating guidance documents.
Over the previous few months, we have created a set of resources to support colleagues to engage in decolonising the curriculum. The resources focus on decolonising teaching content, teaching methods, and assessment methods. More specifically, the resources include question banks to support reflection and action planning, case studies from colleagues who have completed work in decolonising the curriculum, and colleagues’ reflections on reading recommendations to provide insight into the impact that key texts have had on the teaching and learning practice of colleagues.
So, what now for us? Our first set of resources will be published by September 2022 and in a future blog, we will provide reflections from our working group members and our implementation and evaluation processes. We will also detail the next phase of our decolonising the curriculum journey, which will focus on creating resources to support decolonising teaching and learning spaces, developing engagement in student-staff partnerships, and decolonising research.
So, what now for you? I hope the reflections above support you in the first steps of your decolonising the curriculum journey and if you would like to get in touch to further discuss our approach to decolonising the curriculum, please contact Al Laville at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Al Laville is Dean for Diversity and Inclusion & Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Reading (UoR). Al is a Senior Fellow of Advance HE and a UoR University Teaching Fellow. In 2019, Al received the Reading University Student Union award for Diverse and Inclusive Teaching Excellence.