Our rose-tinted curriculum is too white
The sea of change which Brexit is bringing is leading to all elements of British society being re-evaluated – one of these should be our national curriculum. According to the Office for National Statistics, there are around 63 million people living in the UK. Of this number, 12.8% are of ethnic minorities or other. This marks a significant increase in ethnic diversity since 2011 when of 59 million people living in the UK, 9.2% were of ethnic minorities or other. Considering the rise which these statistics document, it is truly shocking that our current curriculum has not made the same advances as the country as a whole; in short, it does not reflect British society.
During my Primary and Secondary school years, the number of times I learned about the First and Second World Wars greatly outnumbered the occasions I learned about broader world history. This excludes the brief, obligatory and apathetic brushes with topics such as Slavery and Native Americans. These brief instances almost wholly focused on the sufferings of people of colour, as opposed to their victories. More importantly, they tactfully omitted the vast range of atrocities committed by the British Empire.
At face value, this may seem a trifling matter. After all, children in the UK receive good quality education at no direct cost to themselves. However, the greater repercussions lie beneath the surface, as many children from BAME (Black and Minority Ethnic) backgrounds are being systematically stripped of their heritage and history. Until I was 17 I only had a cursory knowledge of slavery, later immigration into the UK and the civil rights movement in the United States, and the only way I was able to expand my knowledge was by looking for answers myself. To consider the Orwellian statement ‘Knowledge is power’, a host of children from ethnic minority backgrounds are currently being rendered powerless. Moreover, it engrains the false rhetoric that the only history worth learning is that of Western and European origin.
This denial of power only increases as these children grow up to face institutionalised racism in their places of higher education and work. According to the Daily Telegraph, there are only 4 BAME CEOs of FTSE 100 companies and according to managementoftoday.com, 28% of BAME employees have experienced or witnessed racial harassment from their managers in the last 5 years. In an increasingly diverse England, our children being taught a curriculum that appears almost archaic in its approach is worrying. In the age of Brexit, it is clear that our curriculum needs updating in order to sufficiently represent our changing nation, challenging racial inequality early rather than letting it fester and indeed grow.
We tread a dangerous ground when we place excessive emphasis on past British victories, as romanticising the idea of the empire and colonialism often yields a damaging version of patriotism. That a child in the UK is more likely to learn about British Victories in the First World War than the Amritsar Massacre (where British soldiers exhausted their ammunition by killing between 379 and 1,000 peaceful protestors within 10 minutes) is nothing less than denial by those who prefer a rose-tinted British heritage. Patriotism is certainly beneficial to community cohesion as well as the survival of a state, and invoking historic greatness can improve collective morale. However, when such celebration is based on victories at the expense of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, it is not morale but morality which must come in to play.
Over recent years, we have seen the threat of xenophobia returning under the unconvincing guise of patriotism. The distinction cannot be lost. Therefore, in the age of Brexit, questions of racial representation and historical redaction in our curriculum must be raised. It is ludicrous that the United Kingdom is on the verge of a political turning point which could change our society for the foreseeable future, and yet our curriculum is stuck in a metaphorical genome lag.