By Professor Rowena Arshad, University of Edinburgh

There has been much discussion and debate about the concept of ‘decolonising the curriculum’  within higher education and some might argue that this is now a buzz theme. However, I have remained curious as to why this phrase does not appear to have reached the vocabulary of many who contribute to teacher education in Scotland.  Could this be because teacher educators have already thought about issues of power, ethnocentricity and diversity in the curriculum? (Russell 2020). Let’s hope so.  

However the evidence from research on ‘race’ matters in teacher education would lead us to a different conclusion. We know that over the past three decades, teacher educators as well as new and experienced teachers continue to report lacking confidence in dealing with equalities issues, particularly issues perceived as more controversial such as race  (Arshad et al 2005; Hicks et al 2011; Lander, 2011).

Race equality is often viewed as one aspect of inclusion and as many teacher educators have little lived experience of racism at a structural or everyday level, race equality is often seen as less important or irrelevant, particularly if you live in areas where diversity is less obvious. Consequently race equality or to be more precise, anti-racist education is less likely to be embedded in any meaningful way across teacher education programmes or professional learning offerings. So we continue to see many future teachers being ‘conditioned not to think about race’ (Marx 2006:21) leading them to becoming race evasive. In my work, I have seen a continued hesitancy to explicitly name racism and to engage with concepts of decolonisation within teacher education. There remains a preference to use safer words and concepts such as inclusion and diversity. I was informed recently that a teacher education colleague when asked about how teacher education was engaging with the decolonisation narrative explicitly said  ‘We don’t use words like decolonisation, we prefer terms like inclusion.’

There are different  definitions of what decolonisation means but drawing from the range of definitions, I have made sense of decolonisation as an approach:

“…involving a critical analysis of how colonial forms of knowledge, pedagogical strategies and research methodologies… have shaped what we know, what we recognise and how we reward such knowledge accordingly.”

To decolonise is not about deleting knowledge or histories that have been developed in the West or colonial nations, rather it is to situate the histories and knowledges that do not originate from the West against the context of imperialism and power and to consider why these have been marginalised and de-centered.  Keval talks about repositioning ‘who and what gets to occupy the centre and the margins of ideas and society’ and to rebalance that power (Keval, 2019). A superb book to begin the journey of repositioning and to disrupt conventional thinking of issues related to race is Angela Saini’s book ‘Superior: The Return of Race and Science (Saini, 2019). This extremely accessible book traces historically how race became an organising concept which continues to impact on us in the 21st century – I found even by reading her prologue and Chapter 1: Deep Time provoked much thinking and really helped to ‘de-centre’.

So where we should we start in initial teacher education?

Fran and Pirbhai-Illich (2016) suggests we need to start by looking what hegemonies dominate the language, culture and practices of teacher education. This has to be done systematically across all the areas we teach whether that be around the topic of wellbeing or how we teach in the classroom.

They also suggest that teacher educators have to become interculturally competent and to understand that developing such competencies requires a relational approach which involves co-orientation of how we perceives ourselves and whoever else we deem ‘Other’. We should ask ourselves key questions like ‘who gains and who loses by decolonising the curriculum’? (Sathora and Geduld, 2018).

Some useful resources that might be useful for module coordinators, programme directors and subject leads:

M. Moncrieffe, Y. Asare, R. Dunford, & H. Youssef (Eds.), Decolonising the Curriculum: Teaching and Learning about Race Equality Vol. 1 (2019). Brighton, UK: University of Brighton Press.

M. Moncrieffe et al. (Eds.), Decolonising the Curriculum: Teaching and Learning about Race Equality Vol. 2 (2019). Brighton, UK: University of Brighton Press.

Decolonise the Curriculum | Pran Patel | TEDxNorwichED

SOAS, University of London (2020) Learning and Teaching Toolkit for Programme and Module Convenors


Arshad, R., Diniz, F., Kelly, E., O’Hara, P. and Syed, R. (2005) Minority Ethnic Pupils’ Experiences of School in Scotland, Scottish Government.

Hick, P., Arshad, R., Watt, D. & Mitchell, L. (2011) Promoting cohesion, challenging expectations: educating the teachers of tomorrow for race quality and diversity in 21st century schools. ESCalate.

Keval, H. (2019) ‘Navigating the “decolonising” process: avoiding pitfalls and some do’s and don’t’s’, Discover Society Blog.

Lander, V. (2011) Race, culture and all that: an exploration of the perspectives of White secondary student teachers about race equality issues in their initial teacher educationRace Ethnicity and Education, 14:3, 351 -364.

Martin, F and Pribhai-Illich, F (2016) Towards Decolonising Teacher Education: Criticality, Relationality and Intercultural UnderstandingJournal of Intercultural Studies, 37:4, 355-372.

Marx, S (2006)  Revealing the Invisible: Confronting Passive Racism in Teacher Education, Routledge, New York.

Russell, D. (2020)  Why decolonising the curriculum is a job for teachers, Times Educational Supplement, (Accessed 28th July 2020)

Saini, A. (2019) Superior: The Return of Race Science, 4thEstate: London.

Sathora, H. and Geduld, D. (2018) Towards decolonising teacher education: Reimagining the relationship between theory and praxisSouth African Journal of Education, 38(4).

Rowena Arshad

Rowena was the Head of Moray House School of Education and Sport from 2013-19. Currently, she is Convenor of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Science Equality, Inclusion and Diversity Committee. She also convenes the University of Edinburgh’s Race Equality and Anti-Racist Sub-Group. Her doctoral thesis was on Scottish teacher activism in the area of equality and anti-discrimination. Rowena was awarded the OBE in 2001 for services to race equality, an honorary doctorate by Edinburgh Napier for services to gender equality and in 2019 was awarded a CBE for services to education.


Twitter: @rowenaarshad

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