Springe direkt zu Inhalt

Decolonizing the Curriculum

Decolonizing the Curriculum

Decolonizing the Curriculum
Image Credit: Quelle: Adobe Stock

The BUA Cross Cutting Theme 6 “Diversity & Gender Equality” has founded a working group on the topic of "Decolonizing the Curriculum". The aim is to work together with all interested parties from teaching, research, practice and administration to think about and develop how courses in the four institutions can be decolonized. In doing so, we are aiming for close coordination and cooperation with CCT7 "Teaching and Learning" and CCT8 "Internationalization" in order to jointly implement the upcoming process.

 Kick-off workshop “Decolonizing the Curriculum”

On 26 April 2024, the kick-off event of the workshop series “Decolonizing the Curriculum” took place at the Lichthof of Humboldt-Universität, organized by a working group that emerged from CCT6 “Diversity & Gender Equality”. The aim of the workshop was to reflect on and develop approaches to decolonizing curricula together with all interested parties from teaching, research, practice and administration. Felicia Boma Lazaridou, a doctoral student in the field of transcultural psychiatry at Charité, moderated the event.

Prof. Dr. Susanne Michl, Vice Dean of Education at Charité, professor for Ethics in Medicine and Medical Humanities, and member of BUA Steering Committee 7 “Teaching and Learning”, gave the welcoming address. She emphasized the presence of the past, the interconnectedness of which must be acknowledged in order to come to terms with the past. She cited examples such as the Charité's medical history collection, which is closely linked to the history of German colonialism and National Socialism. Making this history explicit and actively engaging with it is necessary in order to break with continuities.

Kamady Fofana, a secondary school teacher and anti-racist educator gave the keynote speech, entitled “Decolonizing the Curriculum: A Chance for a broadened academic horizon”. As part of a feasibility study, he had analyzed how modules critical of racism could be integrated into teacher training at Berlin universities. Fofana spoke of “colonial amnesia” and a lack of knowledge about German colonial history as a fundamental problem that is caused by school education, among other things. Not only is colonial history treated uncritically, but stereotypical and racist representations and discriminatory language in teaching materials also contribute to reproducing colonial thought patterns. He pleaded for a critical discussion of this topic, in which voices from the “Global South” should be included. In the subsequent Q&A session, the difference between decolonization and diversification of the curriculum was discussed, among other things.

After a short break, the approximately fifty participants parted into two sections. One group discussed different needs in the fields of humanities and social sciences, the other group focused on life sciences and STEM. The aim was to gather examples of best practice in addition to the needs and to discuss possible ways of implementation and institutional hurdles. The life sciences session was moderated by Prof. Dr. Gertraud (Turu) Stadler, Head of the Institute for Gender Research in Medicine at Charité and spokesperson for the BUA's Diversity & Gender Equality Steering Committee. The session on humanities and social sciences was moderated by Dr. Charlotte Piepenbrock, coordinator of the CCT “Diversity & Gender Equality” of the BUA and Dr. Sarah Wessel, program manager of the Berlin Center for Global Engagement (BCGE) of the BUA.

Participants in the session on humanities and social sciences covered a broad spectrum of subjects and contributed a great deal of theoretical and practical knowledge to the discussion. Three levels of action were identified for the call for decolonization of the curriculum: the structures underpinning curriculum development; the topics covered in teaching; and interaction in seminar rooms. On a structural level, it was agreed that additional money and resources would be needed to seriously implement the project. In general, greater awareness of the topic and a self-critical, reflective approach on the part of all those involved are necessary. A number of good examples showed that successful initiatives already exist that can be built on. The measures already tested ranged from a mandatory anti-racism workshop for lecturers to a lunch talk series on the question of how curricula could be reframed, to the critical comparison of “Western” and “non-Western” texts and cooperation with libraries. In addition, participants mentioned existing expert networks within and outside the universities that are taking a critical look at the topic.

Overall, the discussions identified a great need for action on the level of methodological issues, the empowerment of marginalized groups and the availability of critical literature on the topic. Rigid power structures within universities were named as an obstacle to making critical perspectives more present and giving people from marginalized groups a voice. Understanding decolonization as a relational practice, in addition to the aspects of recognition and redistribution, was a point of discussion that emphasized the topic as a multi-layered project with very different starting points and underlined that everyone can become active.

The Life Sciences and STEM session delved into the complex journey of decolonizing the curriculum by recognizing the need for concrete actions and institutional backing. One significant step discussed was translating already available resources, like the handbook "Mind the Gap”. The meeting emphasized the indispensable role of multilayer training across all professions, including apprenticeships, to nurture cultural competence. The Berlin University Alliance could function as a key player for collecting and distributing resources. Further proposals put forth included introducing a peer-mentoring scheme, which would provide invaluable support to newcomers navigating the system. Scientific concepts like the Diversity Minimal Item Toolset and problem-oriented learning in teaching formats were also highlighted as approaches to enrich formalized education.

Expanding beyond content diversification, session participants underscored the importance of integrating expertise from the “Global South” and diverse literature. Collaborative efforts between Berlin and local partners were deemed essential for mutual learning and community engagement. For cultural exchange and internship programs, mutual collaborations with “Global South” representatives and cultural sensitivity training were deemed imperative. Furthering initiatives like linguistic mediation services and AI diversity considerations would ensure equitable access and representation in educational and research endeavors. Structural assistance could be provided by supporting the development of a welcome center. “We had a fruitful exchange and gathered many subject-specific ideas as well as interdisciplinary concepts. Now we must find out how we can jointly implement the proposals in the Berlin University Alliance institutions,” says Prof. Stadler, commenting on the outcome of the session.

In the final plenary discussion, both groups presented their results. The participants concluded that a holistic approach, encompassing structural changes, community involvement, and ongoing assessment, is paramount for decolonizing the curriculum. By embracing diversity and fostering inclusive practices, the aim is to provide university teachers with tools to foster empathy and cultural competence, and to facilitate lifelong learning. The workshop ended with a preview of the follow-up events and an appeal to invite other interested parties to the process.

Thanks to the working group “Decolonizing the Curriculum”: Prof. Dr. Gertraud (Turu) Stadler, Dr. Charlotte Piepenbrock, Felicia Boma Lazaridou, Jonathan Martin Gavrysh, Anna Sierawska, Julius Göbel, Alma Capatti, Suraj Ghag, Aafreen Saiyed