Decolonising Education: Why Is It Important?

Updated: Sep 16, 2020

The importance of decolonisation was highlighted through the Rhodes Must Fall protests, but what does it mean to decolonise education?

Decolonisation calls for a greater representation of non-European thinkers, as well as better historical awareness of the contexts in which scholarly knowledge has been produced.

This is part of a wider student campaign to ‘decolonise the university’, which includes discussions around the curriculum and teaching, support and outcomes for minority ethnic students, terms and conditions for campus workers, and other aspects of university life.

The movement to decolonise education asks us to look at our shared assumptions about how the world is. It is accepted in many disciplines that in the past, assumptions regarding racial and civilisational hierarchy informed a lot of thinking about how the world worked, what was worth studying in it, and how it should be studied.

The result of this today is that much of university education around the world ignores the vital contributions of scholars who were historically marginalised by virtue of their skin colour, country of origin, or socioeconomic background.

This trend is visible in all disciplines, ranging from history to economics to natural sciences.

Decolonising education also asks the crucial questions about the relationship between the location and identity of the writer, what they write, and how they write about it.

For instance, is it acceptable if writings and teachings about international regions or global affairs are done almost exclusively by writers from or based within the West? How does this influence our understanding?

If we think that there is some kind of a relationship between position and perspective on an issue, and we want to broaden our understanding through engaging with more perspectives, we need to diversify the sources we engage in our scholarship.

Decolonising can mean many things and is not something that happens overnight; it requires a sustained and serious commitment within the institution and across the sector. Indeed, at Universities Without Borders, we place huge emphasis on a decolonised education curriculum. We agree that we need to challenge received wisdom, ask questions about normative assumptions, and generate the insight needed to change the world.