British Empire: When so many people today think it was a good thing, education about colonialism is all the more important – Foysol Choudhury

Scotland historically played a role in empire, colonialism and slavery. All around the world, people suffered and the lasting effects of that power imbalance and abuse still exist today.
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However, when asked about Scotland’s legacy, many would not mention colonialism or slavery. Science and invention, culture and the arts, sport are among the things that might come to mind. But, sadly, many people do not know, or perhaps recognise, the truth and severity of Scotland’s nefarious past of slavery and colonial endeavours.

A recent YouGov poll found 32 per cent of respondents thought of the British Empire as a good thing and 33 per cent shockingly believed that colonised countries were better off after colonisation. Unfortunately, we cannot change our history but, if we act now, we can change the future consequences of that history, such as racism.

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That is why I believe it is so important that the history of slavery and colonialism is in the curriculum in all of our schools and that children are taught the truth about Scotland’s colonial past from a young age, as vigorously as any other subject would be. There is currently no statutory requirement to teach the history of colonialism in schools and many children shockingly leave school with little understanding of Scotland’s role in the British Empire and its contribution to colonialism.

Education about Scotland’s colonial past can contribute to building a better future for this country, by raising awareness of the past as well as of present mistreatment of Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people and how it contributes to the unfair systems of power at the foundation of our modern society. Education can help give students agency, promote critical thinking about our society, and build better global citizens who are aware of the full picture of our history on the world stage.

To do this, we need to make sure that the racist and colonial viewpoints held by some historians are exposed and our children are educated as to why they write certain things. We need to clearly teach that the identity and power of historians can influence why they write what they do and that theories which reinforce colonial power structures are not true just because they are written under the guise of academia.

Instead, we need to offer better training to teachers and encourage more BAME people into the education profession. Better training will also help to ensure consistency in the teaching of Scotland’s colonial past, by giving all teachers the confidence and the tools to have discussions with children about topics such as slavery and the real-life effects this can have today in the form of racism and inequality.

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Important work lies ahead and collaboration on this issue is vital to enact lasting and significant change. This isn’t impossible. The new Curriculum for Wales includes the teaching of BAME stories. The Scottish Government has previously embedded LGBT+ inclusive learning across the curriculum and also sought to ensure all children can learn a second and third language. It is possible to do the same for BAME stories, if a working group is given the necessary focus, resources and attention. I’ll continue to pursue this incredibly important issue both for our children and our inclusive, modern Scottish society.

Foysol Choudhury is a Labour MSP for Lothian

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