If you grow up in Britain, you will finish school without being taught anything about the brutalities of the British empire in India and elsewhere, because the subject is not part of the curriculum, but Labour has promised to bridge this historical gap.
It is the first time the issue has figured in electoral discourse in Britain, despite growing demands in recent years by academics, parents and employers seeking individuals with an enhanced awareness of global contexts.
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor has often pointed out the lack of instruction about British colonialism in all its dimensions in British schools.
Some Indian-origin youngsters from London schools who visited India for the first time in 2018 said they had never heard of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre until then.
Setting out measures in its ‘race and faith manifesto’, Labour announced that if it wins the December 12 election, it will create an “Emancipation Educational Trust to ensure historical injustice, colonialism and role of the British empire is taught in the National Curriculum”.
Virendra Sharma, senior Labour leader and candidate from Ealing, Southall, said: “I have long argued that British colonialism in India should be taught in schools. Partition was such an important event in British history and it ought to be part of the curriculum”.
There has been criticism that the British empire has been whitewashed in curriculum, instead of it being taught, warts and all. University lecturers note that students enrol in history courses after school, mostly unaware of British colonialism and its legacies; the curriculum focus is more on Nazi Germany, European history or the American civil war.
Dawn Butler, Labour’s shadow equalities and women’s secretary, said: “Only by acknowledging the historical injustices faced by our communities can we work towards a better future that is prosperous for all, that isn’t blighted by…the politics of fear”.
The gap in historical awareness is more evident in UK-born and educated people of Indian origin. The 2018 visit to India by a 14-member group of London-based youngsters was described by them on their return at the Indian high commission as an ‘eye-opener’.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s idea of the new ‘Emancipation Education Trust’ is aimed at educating future generations in Britain about slavery and the struggle for emancipation, besides the “role and legacy” of the British empire and colonisation.
The Department for Education said: “We expect all schools to teach a broad and balanced curriculum, learning about different cultures and how they have shaped national and international events, which includes black history”.
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