Radical imagination: Enacting anti-racist practice and decolonial praxis in initial teacher education in England
Decolonising the curriculum is a complex, although not elusive phenomenon in initial teacher education (ITE). It is, however, to be actively and persistently pursued in order to enable anti-racist pedagogies and agendas to embed within student teachers’ schema. Calls across higher education for humanising and epistemically liberating pedagogies (Carmichael-Murphy & Gabi, 2021) challenge ITE educators to reconceptualise the ontological and epistemic foundations of their praxis. However, prevailing policies of standardisation in ITE often serve to sever links between culture and education for those deemed as Other, leading to accusations of a lack of commitment to decolonial and anti-racist practices (Arshad, 2020). Indeed Domínguez (2019) believes we are poised at a static zero point where the training of teachers requires specific and uncompromising intervention to avoid the reification of colonial practices.
Our research (Gabi et al., 2022), focusing on the praxis of decolonising among primary and secondary ITE educators, examined their resistance to, and reproduction of, colonialised knowledge. We conducted nine conversational semi-structured interviews with all-White tutors who teach on undergraduate and postgraduate courses. From the data, several themes emerged including the following two significant ones: subject specificity and tensions.
On subject specificity, we found that secondary and some primary tutors, often framed their discussions about decolonial praxis in the context of their subject specialism where they felt a sense of autonomy and ownership. In their teaching they sought to reframe ‘the national picture’ and reveal a ‘more positive and accurate picture’. The recent emphasis on the decolonising of subject disciplines (Moncrieffe, 2020; Nayeri & Rushton, 2022), might have an influence on teacher educators’ perceptions of what it means to be a well-informed practitioner – that decolonial praxis is an integral part of disciplinary expertise.
The second key theme of decolonial praxis and specific tensions, associated with top-down and bureaucratic constraints in ITE, came through strongly in interviews. The impact of Ofsted and the Department for Education agendas and policies were raised. One tutor commented that ‘…our survival depends on us jumping through those hoops [accountability measures]’. Another stressed how the Core Content Framework conceptualises teaching as an ‘instrumentalised profession’, pointing out that without an emphasis on critical thinking and exploration in education, the work required to develop decolonial praxis is discouraged. Considering the lack of incentive from ‘above’, it is therefore easy to see how initiatives of individual educators become crucial in developing decolonial praxis. However, such individual initiatives are often met with immediate obstacles in ITE due to a lack of commitment by the government (Bhopal & Pitkin, 2020).
‘Considering the lack of incentive from “above”, it is therefore easy to see how initiatives of individual educators become crucial in developing decolonial praxis.’
In light of some of the findings in this study, where interviewees demonstrated such dedication to developing their decolonial praxis, the suggestion that ITE is being left behind, and remains depressingly embedded in colonialist practices and epistemic violence (Heleta, 2015) might appear overly pessimistic. However, there are concerns associated with the reliance on individuals to undertake this work on their own, should they choose to do this, especially when the barriers to developing decolonial praxis in ITE are real and significant. The need for ITE providers to fulfil requirements and expectations ‘from above’ means that this work not only falls to the individual educator, but also that establishing decolonial praxis is an inherently subversive act in ITE. However, it appears that the momentum to establish and sustain decolonial praxis comes from individual educators. It is their concerns and desires to address this work that reveal significant barriers and lack of will within an ITE policy that upholds colonised ideals under the guise of traditional values and a standardised, yet characteristically ‘White’, curricula.
This blog is based on the article ‘Decolonial praxis: Teacher educators’ perspectives on tensions, barriers, and possibilities of anti-racist practice-based initial teacher education in England’ by Josephine Gabi, Anna Olsson Rost, Diane Warner and Uzma Asif, published in the Curriculum Journal.
Arshad, R. (2020, September 7). Decolonising and initial teacher education. CERES Blog. https://www.ceres.education.ed.ac.uk/2020/08/19/decolonisingand-initial-teacher-education/
Bhopal, K., & Pitkin, C. (2020). ‘Same old story, just a different policy’: Race and policymaking in higher education in the UK. Race Ethnicity and Education, 23(4), 530–547. http://doi.org/10.1080/13613324.2020.1718082
Carmichael-Murphy, P., & Gabi, J. (2021). (Re)imagining a dialogic curriculum: Humanising and epistemically liberating pedagogies in HE. Journal of Race and Pedagogy, 5(2), 1–18. https://soundideas.pugetsound.edu/rpj/vol5/iss2/4
Domínguez, M. (2019). Decolonial innovation in teacher development: Praxis beyond the colonial zero-point. Journal of Education for Teaching, 45(1), 47–62, https://doi.org/10.1080/02607476.2019.1550605
Gabi, J., Olsson Rost, A., Warner, D., & Asif, U. (2022). Decolonial praxis: Teacher educators’ perspectives on tensions, barriers, and possibilities of anti-racist practice-based initial teacher education in England. Curriculum Journal. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1002/curj.174
Heleta, S. (2016). Decolonisation of higher education: Dismantling epistemic violence and Eurocentrism in South Africa. Transformation in Higher Education, 1(1), 1–8. https://doi.org/10.4102/the.v1i1.9
Moncrieffe, M. L. (2020). Decolonising the history curriculum: Euro-centrism and primary schooling. Palgrave Macmillan.
Nayeri, C., & Rushton, E. A. C. (2022). Methodologies for decolonising geography curricula in the secondary school and in initial teacher education. London Review of Education, 20(1), 1–16. https://doi.org/10.14324/LRE.20.1.04