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Educators are not alone in working for decolonisation

Research suggests a path ahead that includes voices from communities affected by historic 'delusions of supremacy'

 

Educators trying to decolonise the education curriculum may sometimes feel they are alone in their efforts.


So at Diverse History UK we thought it might add some New Year cheer to hear a little about work happening elsewhere. For example, in healthcare research.


This paper [i] published late in 2023 starts by saying,


‘Global health research has traditionally been rooted in colonialism, with some investigators in high-income countries leading and managing research and investigators in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) serving as implementing partners.’


The paper puts the case eloquently for decolonisation of health research.


‘Colonization was historically justified by delusions of supremacy; this included an epistemic supremacy that individuals in LMICs could not be producers of knowledge, and they contributed to “epistemicide” or the destruction of knowledge systems. This has resulted in the assumption today that communities in LMICs do not have, or are incapable of, generating solutions to their own challenges. Colonization has further contributed to a refusal to learn from people who are local experts and a failure to understand that there are many ways to approach public health issues.’


It goes on to look at how international web-based meetings helped to engage a community in a joint project between healthcare workers in India and the US. The project aimed to help improve numbers of people being vaccinated for COVID in an area of India where uptake was very low.


The researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Bal Umang Drishya Sanstha report that this approach helped to amplify local voices, concerns, ideas and advocates.


These included voices of teachers, religious leaders and healthcare workers in the local area concerned, Mewat.


Relevance for education


The details of this paper are certainly interesting, but are they directly relevant to the education experience in the UK?


The idea of involving affected communities is potentially very relevant. As the paper puts it,


‘Leveraging “top–down” approaches… creates the risk of leaving community voices behind.’


In an educational context, this suggests that when individual or teams of teachers work to decolonise the curriculum, people in affected communities could be brought into the process.


This might be consulting with staff in other departments, students and local organisations. Or including spokespeople, leaders and artists from local organisations in lessons.



Diverse History UK's classroom experience is that such involvement makes a huge difference to the engagement of pupils from every culture.


Unless we ask people affected for their views and involvement, we risk missing vital components of this complex work.


 


[i] Seth R, Dhaliwal BK, Miller E, Best T, Sullivan A, Thankachen B, Qaiyum Y, Shet A Leveling the Research Playing Field: Decolonizing Global Health Research Through Web-Based Platforms J Med Internet Res 2023;25:e46897.

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