Decolonizing Education

On 17th June we ran a symposium on Postcolonial Education: Teaching, Learning and Schooling in and After Empire’. The event was jointly organised by Leeds Beckett University and the University of Leeds, and put together by Rachel BowerMatthew WhittleJonathan Saha and Emily Zobel Marshall. The aim was to bring together researchers, poets and community educators to think critically about teaching, learning and schooling.

The symposium opened with a powerful poetry reading from Malika Booker, who dedicated her poem ‘A List of Conservative Variables‘ to Labour MP, Jo Cox, whose tragic murder the previous day was in everybody’s minds throughout the day. A round-table discussion with early career academics followed Malika’s reading, with a dazzling range of approaches to colonial education, past and present.


Papers included Danielle Hall‘s discussion of the D.R.E.A.M project (Diversity and Resiliance: Evoking Autobiography through Music); Shambhavi Priyam‘s paper on indigenous languages in India; Helen Garnett‘s account of the transitional period from colonial possession to independence in the Zambian Higher Education system; John Cocking‘s discussion of education institutions in British Malaya during the first half of the twentieth century; Kate Highman‘s examination of current questions coming out of ‘Why Is My Curriculum White?‘ in relation to Zoe Wicomb’s short story ‘A Clearing in the Bush’; and Frances Hemsley‘s discussion of colonial education and trauma in the work of Dambudzo Marachera.

The academic round-table in the afternoon focussed on teaching practice in relation to postcolonial education. Literature scholars Kate Houlden, Sarah Lawson WelshClare Chambers and Emily Zobel Marshall generously per-circulated some of their teaching materials and syllabi to start the conversation. There was a very open discussion of the challenges and issues arising, and Jonathan Saha has written eloquently of the issues raised in this panel.

Khadijah Ibrahiim, Director of Leeds Young Authors, gave a great talk about the role of performing arts and poetry in postcolonial education, and two members of Leeds Young Authors performed an inspirational poem, “I am British Too”.

The event closed with a screening of Sugar Cane Alley, the 1983 film adaptation of Martiniquan author Joseph Zobel’s novel Rue Cases Nègres (Black Shack Alley, changed to Sugar Cane Alley for US audiences), directed by Euzhan Palcy—a pioneering black, female French director. Joseph Zobel’s daughter, Jenny Zobel, and granddaughter, Emily Zobel Marshall, shared insights into Joseph’s incredible life and works.

Also see Jonathan Saha and Shellie Angelie Saggar for further reflections on the day.

This post was first published on’Northern England to the World’, University of Leeds

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