NewVIc launches new African Studies Centre

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Black History Month is celebrated in October every year In the UK. One of the more encouraging aspects of this year's edition is that there was the notable push to see the teaching of black history incorporated into the wider curriculum. This is in some ways natural. Although often overlooked, Black history is too integrated into wider global history to readily overlook in good faith. Yet, one of the more curious and at times disappointing aspects of black history month is the conspicuous absence of African history from mainstream works.

It should not be too controversial a statement to say that any exhaustive attempt to chronicle black history without reference to African history, may understandably be missing some crucial insight (and that’s putting it lightly).

In the search for solutions to the wider deficit of black history in the curriculum, Newham Sixth Form College (NewVIc) have come up with their own answer in a 'first of its kind' African Studies Centre. The announcement which was made via the college’s website offers further insight into the motivations for the decision.

It stated that the centre hopes to challenge the narrative of an ‘ahistorical’ Africa prior to colonisation, a view which they highlight as only being encouraged by the teaching of African history through the perspective of European colonisation.

The idea for the centre is said to have been inspired by two of the college’s history lecturers, Alan Kunna and Carina Ancell, the latter of whom spoke of the significance behind the decision to open an African Studies Centre. She said:

“As far as we are aware there are not currently any schools or colleges in London offering a comprehensive super curricular African Studies programme. As such, this is a real opportunity to develop expertise amongst the capital’s teaching community whilst developing students’ interest in and appreciation of African history.”

Carina Ancell, History Lecturer and Honours Programme Manager at Newham Sixth Form College.

The Centre which opens for its first session on 11 November hopes to equip teachers with the skills and knowledge to teach students about the history of Africa, outside the lens of European colonialism. It aims to transform the teaching of black history in schools

Carina Ancell’s point is especially important. By framing the value of African history as independent of foreign perspectives, we recognise it as a branch of humanities as valuable as any other, and a pursuit of Knowledge worth following in its own right.

The organizers of the centre considered the current directives of the National Curriculum which prior to choosing GCSE options, dictates that in Key Stage 3, pupils should be taught a syllabus which enables them to “know and understand the history of these islands as a coherent, chronological narrative […] how people’s lives have shaped this nation and how Britain has influenced and been influenced by the wider world.” However, the college have found inconsistencies with how this directive is applied, citing 2019 findings by the Runnymede Trust which showed there to be ‘considerable variability in how schools deliver lessons on British imperialism and post-colonial migration’.

Moreover, they also highlight that academies are not legally required to follow the National Curriculum, leading to further ambiguity over how these important issues are ultimately taught, if they are at all.

A 2019 study by the Runnymede Trust showed there to be ‘considerable variability in how schools deliver lessons on British imperialism and post-colonial migration.

It is particularly fitting that the centre has opened in Newham. There are few communities that are as culturally rich as the London borough of Newham so the announcement is especially fitting. The African Studies Centre at NEWVIC not only directly challenges the black deficit in the curriculum but also charts the direction for how this deficit should be addressed. For every college, this will not be in the form of a centre dedicated to African study, but both Alan Kunna and Carina Ancell have shown that an appreciation for African history outside the European gaze has the potential to be of interest, both for students and the wider community.

The first session, The Issues with Teaching African History will be led by Toby Green, a senior lecturer in Lusophone African History at King’s College London, and will take place online on Wednesday 11 November at 5 pm.

All sessions are free and open to all teachers across the UK, prior registration is essential and available on the College’s website: www.newvic.ac.uk/african-studies-centre

Mayowa Ayodele

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