By Mike Banks.
The British primary school curriculum is in desperate need of a revamp. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks are names most primary school children will be familiar with, but both of these figures are famous for their roles in the African American civil rights movement. Black history is typically taught in primary schools from an African American perspective, and while this is important, it is also important that primary school children are made aware of black British history.
Britain is becoming more and more diverse, and the primary school curriculum should reflect this increased diversity. Children should not only read books that feature white protagonists, as they can internalise this as the norm and view anything else as a deviation from the norm. Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie noted that she used to write books with white protagonists when she was younger as at the time she perceived this as the norm.
Black authors are also frequently absent from primary school reading lists. So, not only do black children fail to engage with novels that feature characters that look like them, they also fail to engage with novels written by people that look like them.
The role that black people have played in shaping Britain today has generally been overlooked and this is reflected in the primary school curriculum. For example, primary school children are taught about the First World War with no mention of the West Indian and African soldiers who fought on behalf of Britain.
Black British history in schools has often been limited to Mary Seacole and her role in the Crimean War, but there have been others that have played an important role in Britain. Olaudah Equiano fought for the British abolition of the slave trade following his experience as a slave. Una Marson, Stuart Hall and Bernie Grant also left their mark on British society.
Primary school children are also taught a sugar-coated, blemish-free version of British history, which does not include Britain’s role in the transatlantic slave trade, or colonialism. Winston Churchill, for example, is presented to young children as a war hero, but there is no mention of the fact that he believed in racial hierarchy and viewed the white race as the superior race.
Racism is still a huge problem that continues to plague British society; completely ignoring Britain’s racist past contributes to this problem because the first way to deal with a problem is to acknowledge that it exists.
Many will point to Black History Month and the role it can play in enlightening primary school children about Black British History, but confining the teaching of Black British history to one month makes the experiences of black people feel inconsequential.
Not only does the school curriculum need to be de-colonised, but new subjects also need to be introduced. Politics and Sociology remain overlooked until GCSE/A-level. Both subjects can and should be incorporated into the primary school curriculum, much like History and Geography have been. Now, I understand the complexities of teaching politics, let alone teaching it at primary school. We want children to be presented with an impartial teaching of politics, especially at such a young age. This is why I only advocate for Key Stage Two children (7-11 year olds) being taught about the key institutions in British Politics including their history and purpose, and the key players both past and present in British Politics. Topics like Brexit should be left off the curriculum as not only are they extremely complicated, they are also emotive topics that can lead to a lack of impartiality from those teaching.
Teaching primary school children Politics could increase youth turnout rates (Source: Stutterstock)
While there has been an improvement in the youth turnout (18-24 year-olds) at General Elections in recent years, it still remains lower than that of other age groups. Familiarising young people with the broad workings of the British political system could help create a more informed and engaged future electorate, and thus foster more political engagement.
Sociology, on the other hand, would be useful as it allows young people to be more critical in their thinking, and provides them with a clearer understanding of the society they live in, how it operates, the problems faced in society and the relationship between an individual and any given society.
A revitalised primary school curriculum is needed to provide young children with a well-rounded education that does not favour the history of some over others and confronts important issues such as colonialism and the slave trade as they still impact our lives today.
Mike is a Politics PhD student and takes a keen interest in social issues, all things British politics and Liverpool FC.