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Let's talk about decolonising and decarbonising education

February 22, 2021

Recently, our Responsible Futures programme hosted a webinar led by De Montfort University on "Decolonising DMU." At the event, students and staff shared their experiences, insight and learnings from their whole-institution approach to decolonising and decarbonising.

In late January, one of the Responsible Futures Host Partnerships, De Montfort University and DMU Student Union, delivered a webinar sharing their experience of the emergence of a high-profile institution-wide decolonising project (‘Decolonising DMU’), which is one of few such HE initiatives that addresses not just racial inequalities in degree outcomes and the contents of the taught curriculum, but also the activities and culture of the institution as a whole.  

But what does decolonising and decarbonising education mean?  

Decolonising education: ​

“Decolonising education is often understood as the process in which we rethink, reframe and reconstruct the curricula and research that preserve the Europe-centred, colonial lens. It should not be mistaken for ‘diversification,’ as diversity can still exist within this western bias. Decolonisation goes further and deeper in challenging the institutional hierarchy and monopoly on knowledge, moving out of a western framework.”

-Sofia Akel, Race Equity Specialist, Education Activist, Researcher and Lecturer (Each Other, 2020)

Decarbonising education:

“Decarbonising our education system means transforming how and what we learn so that education sufficiently addresses and prepares students for the climate crisis and ecological emergency. That means our curricula must equip students with the knowledge, skills, attributes, and values to tackle the reformation of our currently carbon intense economic system. Furthermore, it means thinking critically and challenging the influence of corporations like fossil fuel companies in our research, funding, and sponsorship.”​

- SOS-UK, 2020  ​

How are these two concepts linked and how did we get here? Why do we need to begin the process of both decolonising and decarbonising?  

Through the historic process of colonialism (i.e. physically taking control of other countries) and imperialism (imposing western political and economic systems on non-western countries), Britain’s economic and political systems have been replicated globally, but to the benefit of a small minority of people, mainly from the Global North. These economic and political systems have contributed great to the climate crisis as they are centered on indefinite resource extraction and growth and carbon-intensive production models.

Although everyone will be affected by the impacts of the climate crisis, it is those in low to middle income countries (which are often formerly colonised countries) women from these countries, Indigenous communities and Black and brown communities in the UK and globally who are far more likely to be impacted disproportionately. A large part of this is due to the historic imprint of colonialism whereby Britain, and many other Western countries, stole resources, massacred populations, stole land and disrupted Indigenous practices and knowledge exchange, consequently stunting those countries' economic capacities and limiting their response to the climate crisis the West predominantly made. ​

​We must also take responsibility for two centuries of coal mining in Britain. Coal is the biggest single source of carbon dioxide in the world. Introduction of coal power in the 18th century signaled the start of the industrial revolution and economic boom, but also climate change, air pollution, land degradation and ecological destruction. Based on size of population, Britain is a world leader in greenhouse gas emissions, due to its historic use of coal. ​

Decolonising DMU  

Dr. Richard Hall spoke both at the Sustainability Summit and the Responsible Futures Webinar on decolonising work, particularly De Montfort University’s Decolonising DMU initiative. Richard Hall describes the initiative as “an institution-wide project to ensure there is no racial disparity in our institution, in the makeup of our staff, in the way we teach, in the experience our students receive or the choices we make as educators. The nature of this work is challenging: we have to work together and be prepared to reflect on ourselves and our behaviours as much as the choices we make as an institution.”

On his involvement in decolonising work he says, “I want to focus upon turning the volume down upon those voices who have led us to the precipice, and who deny agency whilst maintaining their own privilege. I wish to work towards centring those who have been exploited and expropriated, with the belief that we can make paths towards alternative worlds.”

Looking Ahead  

During Responsible Futures’ Decolonising DMU webinar, staff and student ambassadors, Charmaine Marufu and Taiwo Sofowora, shared key learnings and experiences, particularly on working in collaboration and acknowledging decolonising as a process, rather than a means to an end. Their insights are important in supporting other institutions to undertake decolonising work.  

“We found that we had to build trust with students – we realised that when it came to this kind of work, students are hesitant to jump on board due to the disappointment of things that have happened in the past. Building trust came from us being vulnerable about where the project is at and where we’re planning to be. We’re saying “decolonising” not “decolonised” because we don’t yet know what a decolonised university looks like, but we’ll get there.”  

- Decolonising DMU Student Ambassador, Charmaine Marufu.

These principles, beautifully articulated by Charmaine Marufu, to work together, to be honest and vulnerable, and to be determined and hopeful are certainly something to aspire to in decolonising work.  

Our next Responsible Futures webinar will take place on February 24th 1pm-4pm. The webinar will be student-led and will highlight the importance of student leadership in embedding sustainability in the formal and informal curriculum. Please click here to register. Please note this event is only open to Responsible Futures partnerships.

Please click here for more information on Responsible Futures.

Please click here for more information on Decolonising DMU.