Research has shown that British students of African descent often self-eliminate from education because they feel disconnected to certain parts of the national curriculum.
It can be difficult for them to associate with what they are being taught in subjects like history, which mostly focuses on British and European history, and English literature, the majority of the writers, poets and playwrights that are studies during GCSE, A Levels and undergraduate level are middle class, white men most of whom have passed away, once in a while you get a middle-class white woman included. Students from BME backgrounds are expected to connect with writers like Shakespeare, Dickens, Orwell, Wilde and so many more.
How is anyone expected to connect with anything they have nothing in common with?
This issue affects students, right up to higher education and is a contributing factor to why some students of ethnic minority tend to fall behind or drop out completely. It’s not about the misconception of removing or excluding any current authors on the curriculum, but just a simple case of inclusion and identity.
“Broadening the syllabus means putting different writers and texts in conversation with each other, not ‘downgrading’ or even eliminating a single writer. It’s a request, as I understand it, for more representation of ethnic minority and postcolonial writers but for the purposes of thinking about these works alongside the existing texts.”
It’s important for society to fight for what it believes in and resist the status quo, but in the meantime, the marginalised group should take the power into their own hands.
It’s the 21st century and resources are easily accessible. Parents should be able to take the time and effort to educate their own children, the amount of resources available is more than enough for parents and guardians to teach their children about where they are from and introduce them to their history.
World-renowned authors like Chinua Achebe, whose critically acclaimed book ‘Things Fall Apart’, is still winning awards today and still extremely relevant for all people of African descent. Playwright, poet, and essayist Wole Soyinka is the first African to win a Nobel peace prize for literature in the mid-80s, he went on to write plays that have been produced in the UK and his native Nigeria. Soyinka, also a professor, has taught comparative literature, African studies, theatre arts and much more at the best universities in Nigeria, North America, and the United Kingdom.
Contemporary writers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Tomi Adeyemi, and Taiye Selasi are all of West African descent and have written best-selling, critically acclaimed novels and short stories. Their work is heavily influenced by African culture, history, and themes that students growing up in Europe can relate and connect to.
Adeyemi’s best selling debut novel ‘Children of Blood and Bone’ has been compared to JK Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter’ series, and Fox and Temple Hill productions have acquired the rights for a movie.
Adichie’s ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’, a historical fiction novel that tells the story of the Biafra war through fictional characters, received the 2007 Orange Prize for fiction, it’s also been adapted into a motion picture.
There are so many wonderful pieces of work both classic and contemporary, and all heavily influenced by rich African culture and history. It’s very easy for parents and guardians to pick up these books or essays that can be purchased online, in book stores, or borrowed from most libraries.
‘In recent years, as more students of colour have reached university, there has been an increase in student-led campaigns, from the Why is my curriculum white? Why isn’t my professor Black? movements to decolonise the university and the introduction of a Black Studies degree at Birmingham City University.’
Of course, the curriculum should attempt to reflect all ethnicity in Britain, the plain truth is that it doesn’t. We should continue to challenge this notion but we must also accept that this change will not happen overnight, in the meantime parents/guardians must take power and ensure that youths are aware and privy to their roots, and not the usual single story of slavery and colonisation, but about the amazingly talented writers and educators that have embarked from Africa and are making a positive difference the world over.