Naida Allen portrait

Written by Naida Allen

Naida is a writer and blogger, fuelled by coffee and dark humour. She is a mental health advocate and regularly uses her own experiences to raise awareness about social issues. Her aim is to break stigma around taboo topics and enlighten the masses through the art of words. She loves dogs, and hates the patriarchy.

Given the significant impact of the Black Lives Matter movement on the criminal justice system, it’s only natural for this event to trickle into the education system. The British school curriculum is outdated at best. It will come as no shock to know that 85% of secondary school texts studied were written by White authors. The lack of diversity is damaging both socially and educationally. The year is 2021, and we are still waiting for change.

After the murder of George Floyd, the world woke up. We could no longer stay silent; the time to take action had arrived. Amongst many deep-rooted racist issues that still exist in British society, one that became impossible to ignore was the issue with the school curriculum. Secondary school pupils across the country (and the world for that matter) are not taught the truth about the UK’s shady history. The broad lack of diversity exists across all school subjects, from English and Drama to History and Science.

Even the American K-12 curriculum lacks punch. The Coalition of Educational Justice (CEJ) in New York recently published a shocking set of statistics that puts the school curriculum to shame. Their enquiry into the lack of diversity found that 4 out of 5 books studied in English were written by a White person. Similarly, a national UK study by Penguin Books found that less than 1% of GCSE students studied a book by a writer of colour. 

It goes without mentioning that it is not just Black authors and people of colour who are marginalized. No; it is also women — and worse still — Black women who are frozen out. There is rarely a platform for LGBTQ+ authors, or awareness in their struggles, which adds to the exclusion and creation of ‘otherness’.

Yet it has to be a top-down approach for us to succeed in any social change. The current school curriculum contributes to perverse attempts to sugarcoat the past, allowing White people to hold the monopoly of power. Gestures that arguably verge on tokenistic, like “Black History Month” are the bare minimum. They are designed to keep the peace, but are ultimately just performative in nature. As Jean Alexander states, “it is a game play for the survival of a democratic society”.

My message today is to the policymakers: we need to update the school curriculum. If history, implicit and institutional racism, or celebrating Black achievements are not prioritised in schools, we can assume change still sits on the backburner. Young people will only learn when we own up to our mistakes. For there to be any hope in a harmonious society, we need to right our wrongs as best we can. The optimum approach is an authentic one.

So, teach students about Britain’s role in colonialism. Explain why the prison population is overrepresented by Black people and ethnic minorities. Study fiction and non-fiction texts across all subjects written by non-white authors. Take English as an example; whilst Shakespeare is undoubtedly important for the development of language, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God remains underrepresented. Consider adding Zadie Smith and Reni-Eddo Lodge to the English syllabus. This will by no means erase centuries of oppression; it will, however, inspire development.

The fact of the matter is, these texts are not hard to come by. There is a long list of potential contenders written by Black women, from textbooks and fictional narratives to plays; and they are all critically-acclaimed. Why, then, are we not capitalising on this opportunity? There is no better way to teach students about human rights and social justice than directly from the horse’s mouth. 

An example of where this sincerity has worked is in Germany; their school curriculum shows significantly more willingness to revisit and admit to past mistakes. Teachers will openly discuss the German role in the Holocaust and WW2; many students will at some point visit a concentration camp. At no point do they attempt to disguise their atrocities. In doing so, they are now more respected by other nations. This is how to rewrite the future.

The irony is, British schools are the first to slander Nazi Germany for their war crimes, particularly when it comes to the Holocaust. Where is this zealous attitude when documenting our own actions on the History syllabus, for example, as colonialists? Instead, students learn about what makes Britain so Great. We share how we were the first to abolish slavery, but not that explorer, John Hawkins, was the first to start the slave trade in 1562.

Reform starts in school. We cannot expect the youth of today to differ from our predecessors if we do not light the torch. For students to thrive, they need to be represented in all their diversity. It is simply not good enough for only 0.1% of pupils to study a text by a Black female author. When you do not see yourself represented, your dreams and options are extremely limited. This is what inevitably leads to apathy and missed opportunities in the community.

We need to mention the achievements and discoveries of both people of colour and Black people – scientists, mathematicians, poets, historians. For example: Madam C.J. Walker who created the first African-American hair care products; Elijah McCoy who invented the ironing board; Tu Youyou who discovered artemisinin, the treatment for malaria. 

At the very least, we need to incorporate texts written by minority authors to study in the classroom. It’s important to keep current and move with the times, rather than promote a false representation of the “good old days”.

Let’s inspire all students — regardless of their gender, race, or sexuality — to know their worth. Britain as a whole needs to understand their history and address their ignorance. The only way to do any of this is through policy change; otherwise we remain stuck in bad habits. It is time to update the school curriculum.

This is not a plea. It is an order.

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