NewVIc launches new African Studies Centre to transform the teaching of black history in schools

The new African Studies Centre, the first of its kind, will equip teachers with the skills and knowledge to teach students about the history of Africa, doing away with a tradition of learning about this diverse continent through the lens of European Colonialism.

The College has teamed up with world-class professors from leading universities to deliver a range of online sessions for teachers. In the sessions, teachers will receive training to teach medieval African kingdoms and explore a wide range of topic areas, for all key stages of students.

The online sessions will be a collaborative space where teachers from across the UK can exchange ideas and resources for teaching African history in secondary schools and sixth forms. The sessions are designed to broaden the parameters of the curriculum and students’ sense of British history, re-examining prevailing assumptions about national identity and belonging.

A principal goal will be to widen the scope of Black history that students are exposed to.

Traditionally, British schools have only taught African history through the perspective of European colonisation. The issue with such a narrow segment implies that Africa was ahistorical prior to European discovery, propagating a false perception that no noteworthy events, discoveries or civilisations occurred there.

The African Studies Centre hopes to challenge this narrative of Africa by exploring its history that predates Colonialism and explore how African civilisations recorded and told their own histories.

The idea of opening an African Studies Centre at the College was conceived by Carina Ancell and Alan Kunna, two history lecturers at NewVIc.

The pair identified the need for a specialist place whilst undertaking research for a book they are co-writing on Charlie Hutchinson, the only known Black British volunteer in the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War.

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

Prior to choosing GCSE options, the National Curriculum 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”.

In 2019, the Runnymede Trust found that despite the guidelines of the National Curriculum, there is considerable variability in how schools deliver lessons on British imperialism and post-colonial migration.

In addition to this, academies are not legally required to follow the National Curriculum, making it hard to determine how these topics are being explored with students.

A survey taken by the Trust, in conjunction with the Universities of Manchester and Cambridge, found that many teachers urgently wanted further support to bolster their confidence in exploring issues of empire and migration. 83% reported a desire for additional training on teaching about migration and 74% on teaching about empire.

The new African Studies Centre at NewVIc will provide a much-needed infrastructure of support so that more teachers are given the tools they need to tackle these subjects.

According to Carina Ancell, “All teachers, regardless of cultural background, must be encouraged to engage with this important section of history. We believe that it is really important that teachers who may not have a background or specialism in African history feel confident and supported in delivering materials on this topic.”

The hope is that the African Studies Centre will broaden the history taught in schools and change perceptions and public knowledge of what the history of the British people actually is.

Alan Kunna, History Lecturer and Foundation Learning Manager at Newham Sixth Form College, said: “We close down the possibility of being one people by ignoring others or disparaging their pasts which allows for division to exist and widen. Many Black and Asian students need to be encouraged to discover the relevance of their own histories in relation to current events in Britain today.”

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

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