Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) students feel "disheartened" and are dropping out of studying history at school because they do not feel represented in the curriculum, MPs have been told.
University student Esmie Jikiemi-Pearson said there are BAME children sitting in classrooms across the country who feel "terrible about themselves" because of what is being taught in schools.
Her remarks came as three select committees considered calls to decolonise and diversify the curriculum.
The joint evidence session – from the petitions committee, the women and equalities committee, and the education committee – was held after hundreds of thousands of people signed petitions on the issue.
One of the petitions, which attracted more than 265,000 signatures, called for Britain's colonial past to be taught as part of the UK's compulsory curriculum.
Ms Jikiemi-Pearson, who created the petition, said: "There are black and brown children sitting in classrooms, just feeling terrible about themselves and disheartened, dropping out of GCSE subjects because they don't see themselves, or they see themselves reflected so negatively in the curriculum.
"I think that is where we should be focusing our attention on."
She called for more picture books with main characters who are black to be shown to children from as early as Reception.
Ms Jikiemi-Pearson said: "I remember thinking when I was very young, 'Why is the black character always the maid? Why are they always in the background? Why am I never allowed to be like the hero?'"
Another petition, which attracted more than 26,000 signatures, called for the British curriculum to be made more inclusive of BAME history.
Yacoub Yasin, a sixth-form student who created the petition, said he dropped out of studying GCSE history at school as he did not feel represented in the curriculum.
Speaking to the select committee on black history and cultural diversity in the curriculum, Mr Yasin said: "The only time I'd ever heard history being spoken about from where I was from was the British Raj, was this element of becoming subservient to a higher form of power.
"That just led to an identity crisis and it really made me start to question what I was learning.
"I started building up this essence of historical and political apathy towards the curriculum where I decided to drop out of history at GCSE because I felt like this isn't me, this isn't what I want to learn, and I'm completely done."