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Fill in the Blanks group
Fill in the Blanks, from left to right: Orla - 🇮🇪 🇮🇳 🇿🇦 Antonia - 🇧🇧 🇮🇪 Iman - 🇸🇴 Matilda - 🇬🇾 Kimran - 🇻🇨🇯🇲 Nico - 🇳🇬 🇸🇱 🇮🇹 Rochelle - 🇺🇬Courtesy

Why we’re fighting to get colonialism taught in British schools

Fill in the Blanks, a group of sixth formers from former British colonies, discuss their campaign to get colonialism on the curriculum – and how you can help

There’s a desperate hunger for change in the air. From the tragic murder of George Floyd, to the coronavirus pandemic, the reverberations of “we can’t breathe” can be heard down every street in every city.

It is now much harder to refute the existence of institutionalised racism when confronted so blatantly with its impacts. From the disproportionate effect COVID-19 has had on ethnic minorities, to the death of Belly Mujinga – we’re angry. 

White silence is compliance. 

It’s not enough to be ‘not racist’, one has to be anti-racist.

Black Lives Matter

These statements flood the tributaries of social media platforms to the black sharpie on brown cardboard, screaming the UK is not innocent. They speak to an increasing acknowledgement of the racist structures that underpin our society, and more importantly, a newly-found desire to dismantle them. 

Slave trader Edward Colston’s deep dive with the fishes epitomises this desire. After years of petitioning for the removal of his statue, protestors took matters into their own hands as authorities stood back and watched. Now, the majority of us who had no idea about Colston have learnt the truth about his ‘philanthropic’ history. 

We are Fill in the Blanks, a group of sixth form students, all from former British colonies, seeking to mandate the teaching of Britain’s colonial history. In January, we distributed 5,000 fake “New Standards” and “Metrus” across London painting a future we want to see. A future in which the curriculum is an honest reflection of our history. We wanted to generate a public conversation on Britain’s colonial past and racist present – now we’re having this conversation. 

There is a gaping chasm in our curriculum when it comes to teaching colonialism. The government argues schools “have the freedom and flexibility... to teach pupils about the history of Britain and the wider world. This can include the topic of the British Empire”. Schools shouldn’t have the option to ignore this pivotal moment in British history. As without this history, we lack the knowledge we need to tackle the culture of white supremacy.

The majority of teachers in our institutions are white. They teach from textbooks that have been written by white people, about white people. The Royal Historical Society has illustrated that this causes fewer BME students to study history, but this doesn’t stop at schools. Where are our Black academics? Not even one per cent of the professors employed at UK universities are Black. This enables the cycle to continue.

All education is political. What we teach students forms the bedrock of their understanding of the world. Let’s take so-called ‘British values’. The Department for Education argues that the mandated promotion of British values in schools, “ensures (that) young people understand the importance of respect, and so will leave school fully prepared for life in modern Britain”. However, given the fact that these ‘British values’ include democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and tolerance of those with different faiths, it’s glaringly hypocritical when we look at the history of the British Empire. Not only did Britain fail to show these ‘values’, it is yet to do the vital work of admitting and learning from its failings.

Our National Curriculum isn’t fit for purpose. In the classroom, we’ve been told to be proud of how much of the world map was once owned in the name of Britannia, or that slavery was a mutually beneficial transaction. We had to educate ourselves, learning more about British Black history and colonialism in the first chapter of Renni Eddo Lodge’s book (Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race) than throughout our entire school education.

“Our National Curriculum isn’t fit for purpose. In the classroom, we’ve been told to be proud of how much of the world map was once owned in the name of Britannia or that slavery was a mutually beneficial transaction. We had to educate ourselves”

Many are now awakening to the inadequacies of the National Curriculum, but there are leaders who were ahead of the curve. To name a few: Consented, Health Poverty Action, and Runnymede. All of whom have gone into schools to teach students about the history of British colonialism, and its ongoing ramifications. We have the tools.

Now is the time to rebuild. Here’s how you can help.

We’re sitting down with Nick Gibb MP, the Minister for School Standards to let him know that his curriculum needs to Fill in the Blanks. We’re a group of students from south London – so not Mr Gibb’s usual audience! To enter that room with as much power as possible, we need your support. 

  1. Email your teachers and headteachers, and ask them to support our campaign. We have a template – so it’s super easy! 
  2. Email your local MP too, to advocate for the mandatory teaching of colonial history. After all, teaching the history of the British Empire is the first step to decolonising our society. We’ve got language for that here.
  3. Reflect on your school education by taking the Impact of Omission survey. Would your school get top marks?
  4. Follow us on social media so you can be notified when our petition is published (we are currently waiting for it to be approved by the government – democracy at its finest).

We share your pain. We share your anger. We believe in a world that is more fair, just and equal. We dare to dream – we live to fight. Join us.

Educate. Dismantle. Rebuild.