By Nadeem Badshah
THE move to add more texts from ethnic minority writers to the GCSE English syllabus has been welcomed by authors and academics, who have also called for more measures to “decolonise” the curriculum.
Starting next month, schools will be offered more poems, plays and novels from writers including Imtiaz Dharker, Jamila Gavin and Tanika Gupta.
Britain’s biggest exam board, Edexcel, owned by Pearson, said other works to be included are from Grace Nichols and Benjamin Zephaniah, following complaints about there being too many “dead white men”.
Gupta, who has written theatre plays along with radio and TV scripts for more than 20 years, told Eastern Eye: “I am absolutely delighted that my play The Empress has been added to Edexcel’s English GCSE syllabus.
“The play is the story of Rani, a 16-year-old ayah from India who arrives in 1887 to work for an English family. It is a chance for pupils to engage in the real history of British Asians, servants, teachers and politicians living and working in the UK for over 150 years.
“More plays and literature need to be included on the GCSE syllabuses from more diverse backgrounds. We need to decolonise our children’s education so that they can read more widely, and for non-white British artists to be included in the curriculum.”
The decision will affect around 50,000 students and follows calls from the National Education Union to have more BAME texts.
GCSE reforms in 2014 saw a move away from American novels such as Of Mice and Men towards more British literature. Pupils must now study at least one play by Shakespeare, a 19th-century novel, a selection of poetry since 1789 as well as fiction or drama from the British Isles from 1914 onwards.
Rajinder Dudrah, professor of cultural studies and creative industries at Birmingham City University, said the latest move “is long overdue”.
He told Eastern Eye: “Windrush, Jallianwala Bagh and Partition are key landmarks in world history, not just south Asian history, that we don’t know about.
“In cities like Birmingham and Manchester with large non-English backgrounds, it is strange that the curriculum does not recognise we are neighbours. We need a rank and file review of the curriculum.
“Much more needs to be done. It’s a step in the right direction but is the tip of the iceberg. In 21st century Britain, we learn about the Tudors, but we are whitewashing and overlooking parts of our history.”
Calls to “decolonise” the curriculum have been growing at universities across the country. The National Union of Students’ adopted programme Why Is My Curriculum White? was introduced in 2015, and called on institutions to include more texts from non-white writers and academics.
Jonathan Peel is an English teacher in Harrow, north London, which has a large Indian community. He said the move by EdExcel “sounds excellent”, that GCSE language will feature writers including Zephanaiah and A Passage to Africa by BBC newsreader George Alagiah, and the “non-fiction anthology” has poems by John Agard, Sujata Bhatt and Dharker.
Peel added: “There’s room for more but this seems a good start”.
In a letter to schools in July, Katy Lewis, Pearson’s head of English, drama and languages, said: “It has been clear that there is a lack of diversity in the offer of British texts for GCSE English literature.”
Reassuring teachers, she added: “We will not be removing any of our current texts or poetry collections. You can continue teaching the texts we currently offer as we are simply adding new texts to broaden your choices”.
However, Professor Alan Smithers, head for the Centre for Education and Employment Research, warned that “careful rational thought” is needed when reviewing a curriculum.
He said: “‘Dead white men’ are an easy and fashionable target, but it is important to remember the English GCSE syllabus is there, in part, to embody the culture, values and traditions of the country.
“Literature from around the world is important in setting English literature in context, but should not replace it.”