LACK OF EDUCATION: INTERVIEWING THE PEOPLE BEHIND THE IMPACT OF OMISSIONS SURVEY
In the fight for racial equality, there seems to be one common aspect delaying progress: a lack of education. This is evident in our homes, at work, in our houses of parliament but particularly, and most importantly, in our schools.
Activists and full time University Students, Esmie and Nell started the Impact of Omissions survey to shine a light on the fact that the UK school curriculum has been purposely excluding it's role in colonialism for quite some time. We caught up with them to learn more about their findings:
1. What is the Impact of Omissions Survey and what is the objective of the initiative as a whole?
The survey asks its responders to give some insight into their history education, specifically, the topics they studied, with the aim of gathering irrefutable evidence that Britain’s colonial past is not being taught. It details different parts of history that are suggested, but not mandatory, on the government’s website to gather more information on how many were educated on the role of Black and BAME people in this country's history. The ultimate objective is to gain equality in our education system’s compulsory curriculum. In doing this, we hope children will gain a more comprehensive view of our country's history. 2. What inspired you to take action?
Esmie: It was a mixture of my own experiences in the education system, and the history I was being taught at home by my Black mother. Essentially, they didn’t match up. My mother would talk about the horrors of the Middle Passage, and pressed copies of Things Fall Apart into my hands, all whilst making sure I knew about the sacrifices her father had made coming to this country, and how he’d helped many of the Windrush Generation get their papers in order. But, I took History all the way from Year 7 until I achieved an A grade at A-Level, and I was painfully aware the entire time that key truths had been purposefully omitted. For example, in discussions of Industrialisation and the wealth it brought Britain (a topic I studied in depth for two years), slavery was scarcely mentioned. When I heard about George Floyd’s death, and saw the reaction in the U.K., with some saying ‘we aren’t racist here,’ I just thought, you are so privileged to be able to say that, but also, on a fundamental level, the education system has failed. It is the fault of this country that America is the racist society it is now. The U.K. needs to hold itself accountable, and that starts with education. Nell: In the immediate aftermath of the death of George Floyd, it seemed there was a lack of acknowledgement of Britain's racist past and present. I realised that in conversations with my family and friends, I didn’t know enough about the history of racism in Britain. It made me think back to my education, and I realised that a lot of crucial information had been neglected. This made me ashamed and angry - ashamed that I had not realized this sooner and angry that institutions we trust to equip us with the knowledge we need for life had failed us. After sharing my feelings with Esmie, it became apparent that we had both come to the same conclusion regarding this issue. I want to try and help push towards a future where I can trust schools to teach my children about issues that I was not fully educated on. 3. What has the response been like so far?
The response has been wonderful, inspiring and infuriating all at once. The sheer number of responses has been absolutely incredible, but the results have reinforced the magnitude of this issue and the fact that it exists all across the country, in all sectors of education. Additionally, it has been heartwarming and emotional to read some of the long-form comments at the end of the survey where people have detailed their experience and how let down and ashamed they are of their education. 4. What were some of the most eye opening findings from the survey?
Esmie: How widespread the problem is. We received responses from every region in the U.K. and they all indicated a lie propagated by the government that would have us believe the U.K. is largely innocent. That learning about the Great Fire of London is somehow more important than the British colonisation of African countries. We got one comment from someone that has stuck with me. They said, ‘I deeply resent the quality of my history education, more than any other subject’, so aside from the statistics, I think the most eye-opening finding is how many people--80% of them white--are incredibly ashamed and angry that they found out about these historical crimes as late as they did. Nell: I agree with Esmie, although I was already aware of the issue, having had much of British history omitted from my own education, it was shocking to see just how few people had been educated on topics such as the slave trade during the industrial revolution, and how widespread this miseducation is. How is it possible that whilst over 86% of responders studied the Tudors, only around 5% learnt of the contribution of BAME soldiers in the World Wars. 5. What were some of the finds that did not surprise you?
Nell: Whilst it was shocking and infuriating to see just how much of a gap exists in what we are taught, it was not surprising that this gap exists. I was aware of it in my own education and so did expect a similar response in the results. Esmie: Same here - it was certainly shocking to see the results laid out so undeniably, but I was not actually surprised. Rather, I felt a grim satisfaction; see, we do have a problem here, just as Black people have been saying for years, and it is endemic. 6. Did specific areas in the UK present similar results?
The general trend of a lack of knowledge surrounding BAME history is constant throughout the UK. However, it must be noted that different regions (for example, Scotland and Ireland) have slightly different education systems. Most who had learnt about British colonial history and/or the slave trade tended to come from Scotland - in fact, many Scottish students reached out to us to alert us to the differences in education system. However, many still had not studied these parts of history, and so as previously mentioned, the trends remain largely the same. 7. How did your personal education shape your understanding of racial equality?
Esmie: I’ve been aware of racism from a very young age due to experiencing it at school, where I heard my classmate say ‘never trust a Black person’, at seven-years-old. My life has been a personal education in racial equality, or lack thereof. At home, my parents made sure we not only knew, but were proud of where we came from. My mother has said to me so many times ‘you will have to work two times harder than everyone else just to survive’, and though I railed against that idea for years (it’s so unfair!), I realise now she is right, just as every Black mother living in this country who has said this is right. Additionally, I read Staying Power by Peter Fryer and then Black and British by David Olusoga during my last year in sixth form and first year at uni, and felt unsurprised I hadn’t learned about the content of either book, but also validated. Black people have been here! Nell: At home, it was always made clear by my parents that everyone should be treated the same regardless of race, religion, gender, sexuality or any other part of their identity, I am extremely lucky in this sense. However, whilst my parents are very forward-thinking, the history of oppression of Black people in this country was a topic that they too were not educated on. Coming from a white family, therefore, whilst I was taught to be accepting, I was not taught why others may not be - a crucial point in the battle against racism. At school, whilst the concept of slavery may have been mentioned, and so a little light was shone on the reasons behind the systemic racism that exists all over the world, Britain’s role in it, as well as the many other atrocities it committed, was not emphasized, or in a lot of cases even mentioned. I am both ashamed and proud to say that most of my knowledge that underpins my understanding of racial equality does not come from my formal education, and instead from personal interest and research. 8. What are the next steps for Impact of Omission?
Esmie & Nell: Currently, we have a website set up that contains letters people can send to their MPs and schools calling for a change in the curriculum. We urge as many people as possible to send these and share the site as far and wide as they can! In addition, we are in the process of creating a petition that will also call for the teaching of Britain’s colonial past in schools. We hope people will support this as well! 9. Anything further to add? Esmie & Nell: We would like to emphasize how important it is that people send these letters and sign the petition. The fight is far from over. Together we can make this crucial change in our education system. The website is impactofomission.squarespace.com - you will find all the relevant information there. If you haven’t already, please also have a look at our Twitter where we will post updates in our push for education equality. And we want to say thank you very much to Women Connect for having us!
Petition link below: