Opinion

Our migration story has shaped us – it’s time it shapes the curriculum too

It is urgent that we learn the value of migration – starting in schools and ending with every single one of us.

Student reading in school

Penguin Books is calling for the English Literature curriculum to be diversified. Image: Pexels

It is urgent that we learn the value of migration, starting in schools and ending with every single one of us, as the war in Ukraine continues to force millions to abandon their homes and migrants attempting to cross the channel face untold hostility.

The Windrush Scandal showed us the consequences of failing to understand the history of empire and migration to this country.

Wendy Williams, author of the Lessons Learned review, found that a lack of understanding of this history by Home Office staff and successive governments was a root cause of the Windrush Scandal. She identified “institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race and the history of the Windrush generation”.

And just days ago, reports suggested that disagreements have delayed the rollout of a teaching module on colonialism for the Home Office, as some civil servants think the material is “too controversial”.

The history of migration is fundamental to all of us in Britain. From the Huguenots in the 1600s, Jewish refugees in the 1700s or the influx of migration to Britain because of the British Empire, we all have a connection to these movements of people.

The teaching of our migration history should be instilled throughout the curriculum, beyond the history syllabus. The government recently released its Inclusive Britain plan, which included plans for a new model history curriculum, but much more is needed to address the gaps in learning in schools.

Research by Penguin and Runnymede Trust for our Lit in Colour campaign shows that 70 per cent of young people agree that diversity is a part of British society and should be represented in the school curriculum.

A prime example of where this can be effective is within English Literature. Books make historical and modern stories of issues such as migration accessible and relatable; they help us understand how our history has been shaped and the issues facing us today.

The books on the English literature curriculum do not represent the lives of young people.

Although 34 per cent of school-age children in England identify as Black, Asian or minority ethnic, our nationwide research shows fewer than 1 per cent of GCSE English literature students study a book by a writer of colour.

Lit in Colour was created to explore how to support schools to make the teaching of English Literature more inclusive. Working in partnership, Penguin and the Runnymede Trust are bringing together publishers and exam boards to help increase students’ access to books by writers of colour and those from minority ethnic backgrounds.

We know that many teachers want to make a change but are held back by a lack of resources and low confidence in talking about race.

Teaching migration, belonging, and empire is not just relevant to students from minority backgrounds, it offers all young people the opportunity to better understand the dynamic world they live in. And it will give British students of all backgrounds a fuller understanding of the varied and wide-ranging cultural inputs that have contributed to the making of Britain.

Books must offer a shared sense of belonging to all children.

We need to diversify the curriculum to better represent our society and help broaden understanding of our collective migration story. Championing systemic change of this kind is not just important – it is critical in shaping the future of generations to come.

Zaahida Nabagereka is Lit in Colour programme director at Penguin Books and Alba Kapoor is Senior Policy Manager at Runnymede Trust.

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