Moving Beyond Books For A Decolonised Education

Every school has a library, and so it should. Books give us access to knowledge, and curriculums are based around them. However, in the wake of digital transformation, it is not enough that books hold exclusive access to knowledge of the past, particularly in the age of a decolonised education.

The understanding of history in the west is built around recordings on paper. Priority is given to that of the written word. Western explorers were able to ‘discover’ new lands – by being the first to write about them in Western societies regardless of communities living and knowing about said ‘discoveries’ long before. In progressive circles, our understanding of history may be recognising the legacy of colonial epistemology, but do our schools recognise this importance of readdressing this in the classroom. Take education in Africa – it is more common than not to see the prevalence of age-old textbooks, out of print and passed between Western schools or libraries before making their way to an African classroom. Quite often these are gifted through donation, but let’s not forget that they are driven by the fact they no longer serve a purpose in Western classrooms. Books have a place but putting them on a pedestal is perilous and solely accessing knowledge of the past through them is not useful. The written word is not exclusively all we have to go by, and neither is the Western narrative.

Oral traditions are prevalent across the continent. Indigenous knowledge obviously exists, however in the realm of schools, it is untapped and undermined. It holds a little, if any, place in many institutions and the consequence of this is huge, both for individuals and communities. Schools are choosing the knowledge to put in front of their children – they have a role to not only enable the balance of power in what knowledge is important, but also to reimagine how this can be accessed.

There is a growing call to recognise and celebrate indigenous knowledge. It doesn’t have to be formal. It doesn’t have to be assessed. It must be valued. There must be space for discussions and open minds as to how it can be accessed, shared, or delivered. There is no blueprint on how to incorporate indigenous knowledge into the curriculum, and nor should there be, because communities and schools differ. But there is a thirst for it. There is an awareness it is missing. Progressive schools realise that they can be part of a narrative that holds space for a more culturally relevant and decolonised education. One that speaks to the children and communities to which it serves. One that also recognises what children need for a fulfilled future in a global setting, but not at the expense of other important factors closer to home.

International schools may serve a different purpose and/or different sections of communities, but when seen as the pinnacle of education to other schools – then not addressing this can be dangerous.

Let us not forget the role technology can have in this. Technology can be used to rethink the delivery of knowledge as well as the access to it. Schools are synonymous with books, but there is a call to move beyond this. We already have ways that technology replaces books. We have technology that allows us to replace brick and mortar classrooms however we are not using technology to help in the move to alternative knowledge and holding spaces for this knowledge. We already have all that we need – it is a case of curating something different for the new world of education.