Tag Archives: colonial history

The teaching of colonial history

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I have been championing the teaching of black and colonial history in schools for as long as I can remember and was a member of the task force set up in 2012 under Baroness Meral Ece on Race Equality in Education and Employment. Through learning about the impact and legacy of colonialism, we can forge a modern British identity, bridge past divisions as well as better inform Britain’s dealings with the rest of the world.

I had previously held a benign view of the Commonwealth legacy.  Today Singapore students rank in the top 3 places on OECD’s PISA league tables for schools, while 16 and 18 year olds still subscribe to the Cambridge board examinations. It meant I could, when aged 18, move with ease to London to study law.

The legacy of empire is controversial but the spread and use of the English language as the lingua franca is undoubtedly a positive.  The introduction of maritime trade links, development of ports and rail infrastructure are other commendable outcomes. There is also a “Commonwealth advantage” where countries with similar legal systems, professional training and a common language are better able to trade with each other across continents.

On the flip side (as the Black Lives Matter movement has brought into sharp focus), the slave trade promoted across the Atlantic between the 16th and 19th centuries has led to entrenched racism and inequalities. Though other colonial powers were involved, the British had played a key role in transporting 12.5 million Africans to plantations in the Americas, with some 2 million dying en route.  When the slave trade finally ended, it was the slave owners who were compensated, not the victims and their families.

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