Tensions around decolonising teaching and learning

The topics of decolonising curricula, decolonising universities, and decolonising teaching and learning generally have sparked much debate in recent times. This blog post looks at some of the tensions around the subject of decolonising to broadly consider why it is a topic that has divided opinion among those in Higher Education.

One of the tensions around the subject of decolonising is the concern that any conversations about the subject risks creating or fuelling racial tensions. This concern can prevent staff and students from engaging in initial discussions about decolonising. Some colleagues may not feel comfortable entering into a conversation about race or other sensitive issues that they feel they lack expertise in. The aim of decolonising is not to fuel racial tensions. The subject should not be approached as a divisive topic. To have these conversations does not require expert knowledge but openness to being conflicted and challenged, respect, and the courage to have conversations outside of what feels comfortable.

Another tension relating to the subject of decolonising is around the potential disruption of power. Critical discussions around decolonising the university interrogate institutional structures and how these can play a part in upholding colonial legacies of power. Therefore to decolonise a university is to make potentially significant changes to its structural scaffolding. But the tensions around power not only exist in institutional structures. Time should also be taken to reflect on how power dynamics may be created and negotiated within classrooms and consider the effect this can have on the student learning experience and how learning is being led.

There is also the tension around the value of decolonising altogether. Some may argue that the work around decolonising is unnecessary as works relating to inclusivity and access and participation agendas mean enough work is being done to try and address inequalities in teaching and learning. The work of these agendas is highly important and the process of decolonising can help to delve deeper into issues concerning equality and education, wellbeing and belonging to name a few. The decolonising lens shares connections with but is different to the topic of inclusivity.

These are just a few of the tensions that can arise during conversations around decolonising teaching and learning. It is important to recognise and address the existence of these tensions so that they can be negotiated and better understood through critical exploration when challenging conversations occur. These tensions should not stop difficult conversations from happening or limit the positive potential that the work of decolonising can have on teaching and learning. Rather, by acknowledging these tensions from the outset, we can explore the reasons behind their existence and consider how to appropriately respond to them so that they develop rather than prevent the decolonising process.

Dr Danielle Tran, Senior Lecturer in Learning, Teaching, and Professional Development, University of Greenwich

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