How arts and culture can help decolonise the curriculum

In this podcast, we explore how black history is presented in school – and how a focus on the arts can make a difference
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The concept of decolonising the curriculum is not a new one. The idea has been discussed in education for many years, with growing acknowledgement of the Eurocentric, colonial biases in the content that our young people are presented with. 

The idea gathered momentum this summer amid the global Black Lives Matter protests, as petitions on the issue gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures. 

On this podcast, sponsored by Artsmark, we explore how art and culture can be part of the movement. We speak to Lavinya Stennett, founder and CEO of social enterprise The Black Curriculum, and Kwame Bakoji-Hume, director of African Activities CIC, a collaboration of African artists in the UK who share knowledge of African arts and culture and reframe the narrative around Africa and blackness in UK schools.

In the conversation, Stennett reflects on her own experience of black history in UK schools and the lack of creativity within it: 

"It was only done once a year during Black History Month, and focused on issues like the transatlantic slave trade routes," she says. "It was not very creative at all. It wasn't really engaging, or it didn't offer a chance for young people to feel empowered."

She recalls how, when art was used to explore these issues, it was usually through traumatic films such as Roots, which can trigger feelings of "collective pain" and "shame and embarrassment".

A positive focus on black history and culture

"Those conversations, or lack of conversations, just reinforced that there was a division in society. Subconsciously it becomes part of your identity," says Stennett.

Bakoji-Hume talks about his work in schools and how positively children react to hearing old stories passed down through generations.

"Sometimes it's very new to them - they are quite shocked," he says. "I tell stories a lot about Africa and they ask me, 'Wow! Is it true?'

"There's a lot the children are missing in England's schools. Every child in Africa knows their history - it's on their shoulders, strung through their bones. Our stories must be told. That's what motivates me to go into schools." 

The conversation goes on to explore visions for a decolonised curriculum, how art and culture can be a part of that change, and where teachers can go for advice on making changes in their classrooms.