Teaching and Learning

Decolonisation: Teaching, Learning and Curriculum in Higher Education

The premise behind ‘decolonisation: teaching, learning, and curriculum in higher education’ is to open up non-coercive dialogues and interrupt our thinking regarding our taken-for granted assumptions about teaching learning and pedagogy at schools and universities. There are different contents displayed in this section (YouTube channel, reflective blogs and suggested resources) to share ideas, and connect with educators, academics and activists.

Decolonisation, Law, Race & the Legal Curriculum: SLSA 2018 (Retrieved from: https://folukeafrica.com/decolonization-law-race-the-legal-curriculum-slsa-2018/)

Decolonising Education: Let’s Talk About It

The Youtube Channel: Decolonising education: let’s talk about it is created by Dr. Muna Abdi. The premise behind it is to discuss concepts revolving around decolonisation and education. The channel provides online discussions and critical debates with fellow peers around different universities and disciplines. Dr. Muna Abdi is happy to provide more information about how to get involved in hosting online meetings. You can contact her either through her Twitter page, please click here or via her e-mail address: info@ma-consultancy.co.uk

Dr. Muna Abdi introducing the purpose of the channel about decolonisation and education


Decolonising Higher Education

Decolonising Higher Education hosted by Dr. Muna Abdi featuring Dr. Anjana Ragavan, Dr. Christopher Lloyd and Dr. Tony Williams.

Some Personal reflections…

Riadh Ghemmour (PhD, University of Exeter)

Introduction 

The thought-provoking and eye-opening video revolves around a critical discussion and reflection on ways and challenges to potentially decolonise HE in the UK. The speakers approached the idea from different perspectives which are worth listening to. In this reflection, I would like to share some takeaways from the debate and provoke further thoughts. 

Decolonisation in practice: what does it look like? 

The speakers delved into what decolonisation might look like on the terrain. It indeed is as important to think about the theory behind decolonisation as its counterpart- practice. Firstly, I have always considered decolonisation as a contested term- what do REALLY mean by it? Liberation? Empowerment? BAME movement? Indigenous/Aboriginal/Native Peoples movement? Surely the practice in each movement would look differently and would lead to different aims and goals. However, I believe that as long as we problematise ‘the familiar’ (i.e. mainstream knowledge and praxis) and equally legitimise other ways of being and knowing in our research and teaching practices and HE curricula, then ‘decolonisation in practice’ is likely to be manifested. Decolonisation should not fit a specific paradigm or ideology because we will end up creating a ‘recipe’ and, unconsciously, argue for a limited way of practising it which might exclude other practices and marginalise them. This is why we always need to be cautious and critically reflexive in the way we approach this idea of ‘decolonisation in practice’. Decolonisation is a celebration of the ‘Other’ who has been suppressed and it is important to demonstrate diversity and alterity as much as we possibly can in order to legitimately state this is ‘decolonisation in practice’.

To what extent is it possible to do decolonisation at HE? 

Dr. Tony Williams raised a thought-provoking and interesting question in relation to the extent to which it is possible to exercise decolonisation at HE. This reminds me of the beautiful and powerful interview about decolonising methodologies hosted by Michaela Benson and Sara Salem from the Sociological Review with Prof. Linda Tuhiwai Smith. Prof. Smith explains that to practise and to make decolonisation happen at our institutions, it is very important o decolonise ourselves first and be aware of the limits of our own knowledge, inequalities and injustices and how they are reproduced in our everyday experiences. She further explains in the interview that decolonisation is a long (very long) process which requires strategy, planning, money, discussions, awareness and a collective commitment as Dr. Anjana Ragavan highlighted in the video. I believe that it is possible to decolonise, and to a great extent, as long as the whole institution is committed to the mission as one person cannot receive all the hefty responsibility to do so. In addition, the possibility to notice success with decolonisation cans also be demonstrated if we sustain the project with communities, staff members, academics, researchers, current students and new students. 

Concluding reflection

I would like to conclude those takeaways and reflections with sharing a conceptual ambiguity which I am facing at the moment. We often use, either in speaking or writing, the concepts of decolonisation, decoloniality, de/coloniality, de(colonisation) interchangeably, but can they be used interchangeably? What do we mean by decoloniality vs. de/coloniality (with a slash)? It is important to clarify such conceptual understanding to foreground strong theoretical knowledge of such terms which would eventually lead to clearer communication amongst ourselves and our students. 


Decolonising Research

Decolonising Research hosted by Dr. Muna Abdi featuring Carolina Nvé Díaz San Francisco, Andrea Jimenez and Ian Calliou sharing their experience of doing decolonising research.

‘Take-aways’ and some personal reflections

Riadh Ghemmour

“Research” is probably one of the dirtiest words in the indigenous world’s vocabulary.” (Smith, 1999, p.1)

Introduction

In this reflective and thought-provoking discussion hosted by Dr.Muna Abdi and the brilliant contributors: Carolina Nvé Díaz San Francisco, Andrea Jimenez and Ian Calliou, different perspectives were explored, shared and reflected upon regarding decolonising research. The speakers shared accounts of their journey with the process of decolonisation in their respective scholarly works and research which is filled with lots of struggles, loneliness, self-determination, resistance and self-definition. The discussion is worth listening to and reflecting upon. In this account, I share my ‘take-aways’ from the discussion and also my own journey of decolonisation and research.

Embracing and journeying through decolonisation

I am inspired by Wilson’s (2008) letter written to his sons to explain his personal motifs in writing his book (Research is Ceremony) and conducting Indigenous research, but also invite readers to know him at a deeper level to activate relationality which he delves into throughout his chapters. Indeed, self-location is important in decolonising and Indigenous research. Therefore, I wish to follow his path in developing this piece and develop relationality with the readers through introducing who I am and why I am espousing a decolonising lens in my PhD research project -though it is going to be very brief! – I am an Indigenous Berber (from the Kabyle region: Ath Yenni) born and bred in Algeria. I did my BA in English and MA in Applied Linguistics at the University of Mostaganem (Algeria). In 2017, I started my MSc in educational research and straight after, a PhD in education in 2018 (currently in year 2). Throughout my whole educational and university journey, I have never been introduced to the process of decolonisation nor was I able to challenge or critic dominant research paradigms (be it back home or in the UK) thinking they were the ‘true’ ways of doing educational research. When I came across decolonisation in books, it was, as Andrea said, a choice and it was an antidote, as I explained in my blog published for the Sociological Review, from oppression and towards liberation and freedom of the mind. Throughout the last decades, my mind was colonised, as I viewed any major reference or dominant knowledge as being ‘universal’. I remember all those courses I took during my BA, MA, and MSc which were mostly taught using Western scholarship. As a result, this has unfortunately made lots of students and teachers from ‘Global South’ romanticising Western knowledge system. 

Decolonisation is urging me to re-think and unpack all taken-for-granted knowledge systems, ideologies and paradigms. Reading about the scholarship around decolonisation was a celebration of my own thoughts- the thoughts which have been silenced for decades but could not find light at the end of the tunnel because I felt they were not right and legitimate. Now, I am about to produce one of the biggest works of my whole education and schooling, I felt the need to challenge all previous inputs and institutional expectations. I would not be able to do the same work using a different ‘soul’ as decolonisation truly speaks to me! – It is me and my ideas in those books. Indeed, in line with Muna’s thought, taking a decolonising lens in my work is a lonely journey; I spend days and days navigating my work backward and forward, and getting lost, without being able to share my struggles and hopes with like-minded doctoral students and academics. I appreciate the support which I receive from my working environment but having a network to share and receive progressive ideas is tremendously beneficial. This is why it is important to seek solace and connect with virtual networks to enrich the mind and share journeys, just to say, ‘I am not alone in this battle!’

Prior to starting my fieldwork back in Algeria in October 2019, I had to understand well the process of decolonisation through the scholarship of renowned Indigenous scholars (e.g. Kovach, 2010; Smith, 2012) and engage in decolonising my self. I was not sure if I was doing it right but what guided this process is the relationality and relational accountability which Wilson (2008) discussed in his book. The two pillars had clearly implications on some of the methodological, ethical and even analytical decision making of the research which mainstream research praxis neglected. Decolonising one’s self is not a linear process nor a tick box, it is cyclical and requires critical self-reflexivity. The process is still in progress for me.

Decolonising during fieldwork

Prior to starting my fieldwork back in Algeria, it was important for me to establish contact with community members which included students and teachers at HE. I drew heavily on the principles of Indigenous research which favour relationality and relational accountability, respect, reciprocity, collaboration, partnership and giving back to the community- these were the fundamentals during my fieldwork trip to Algeria. In his influential book, Wilson (2008) thoroughly explains relationality in relation to people, ideas, environment and cosmos. I think that is what dominant paradigms were still missing to incorporate- an element of spirituality and connectivity to the living and non-living.

Writing my reflective log by the sea side of Mostaganem (fieldwork, 2019)

As Carolina also rightly stated, alliances and collaboration are important in the process of decolonisation. Indeed, throughout my fieldwork, collaboration and collective spirit were invited and encouraged. In doing so, I always tried my hardest to remain transparent, trustworthy, clear and most importantly consider the participants as educators than objects of study or ‘containers of data’. Their insights and feedback regarding the issue I was researching and the choice of research methods were important as they were informing and shaping the research process. From an Indigenous standpoint, community members’ contributions in selecting and approving the research topic should be negotiated prior to starting the research. Research should not be exploitative and should be undertaken to cater for the welfare of communities and improve their living conditions. 

During the discussion, Muna mentioned ‘colonial slippage’ which entails, I assume, reproducing some colonial practices through research which we, as researchers, are unconscious about. I mentioned earlier how decolonising one’s self can never be complete or a tick box as it is a continuing process. This has happened to me during my fieldwork. Though, I was trying to decolonise myself, I, unconsciously, was still exercising power on the community members at times. For example, I was using English language as a means of communicating with community members (with students in this instance) at university assuming they study English and they would be able to use the language. However, many asked me whether they can use ‘Darija’ (the Algerian Arabic dialect) to share their thoughts. This situation drew my attention and I reflected upon how I, unconsciously, imposed a language which the community members were not necessarily comfortable with. 

Also, Muna did raise an interesting question regarding the sustainability of those relations and remaining accountable to communities. In my PhD project, I am trying to sustain through keeping communities members informed about the next steps of my project and how the knowledges they kindly shared with me will be preserved, honoured and interpreted. Knowledge, in an Indigenous research, is not owned nor discovered because it already exists. Therefore, it is important to honour their knowledges and represent them as authentically as possible through collaboration, constant updates and mutual feedback. 

Final thoughts

It is always important to remember that research is done in partnership with communities than on them. Research, though the institutional requirements which PhD students must fulfil, should respond to the needs of communities, and honour their stories and knowledges.  

With the increase number of international students doing their master’s and research degrees all around the world, especially in the UK, research methods curriculum developers in the social sciences should re-consider and shape their content and knowledge which are introduced to students, and introduce decolonising and Indigenous methodologies amongst mainstream knowledge and research paradigms we are all familiar with. Inter-continental contexts might not welcome dominant methodologies, research paradigms and ethics protocols, so it is fundamental to develop culturally appropriate methodologies and methods which represent local beliefs and forms of knowing and render research a beautiful word and process which change individuals -including researchers- than a dirty one!

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