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Tackling Decolonisation in Digital Education – Lessons from Distance Learners

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Recording of our recent event

The Centre for Online and Distance Education (CODE) joined forces again with the Bloomsbury Learning Exchange (BLE) and the London International Development Centre (LIDC) to extend the conversation around the decolonisation of digital education, which started last year with their first joint webinar. On 17th April, the follow-up webinar focussed on distance and online education, and specifically on the experiences of remote learners. We were delighted to convene a panel comprising three students who had recently completed or were currently pursuing online courses offered by the University of London. What followed was a lively and engaging panel discussion, chaired by CODE Fellow and vice-principal for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) at the Royal Veterinary College, Dr Christine Thuranira-McKeever, who posed thought-provoking questions provided by the audience.

CODE decolonisation news item
Clockwise from top left: Sanjeeva Singh, Swati Aggarwal, Christine Thuranira-McKeever (Chair) and Conrad Francis

Our student panellists each introduced themselves and presented the ways in which they have experienced decolonisation in respect to technologies used to deliver online courses. Conrad Francis is an Australian Sri-Lankan dual Olympian (Sydney 2000, Athens 2004) who

has coached across the world, working in schools and universities in countries including China, Indonesia, Japan and South Korea. Conrad completed a PGCE in International Sports Management at the University of London in 2022 and provided a truly international perspective. He stated that student empowerment lies at the heart of decolonising education. Conrad encouraged students to question what they already know and what they are learning.

Dr Swati Aggarwal holds a doctorate in AI and has extensive experience in research and teaching in India. Moving to a teaching position in Norway in 2023, she completed the online Postgraduate Certificate Learning and Teaching in Higher Education provided by the University of London. As an educator herself, Swati drew on her experiences of decolonisation both in delivering and being a recipient of learning. She exposed the need to diversify the voices that shape education itself to reflect the multi-cultural world.

Finally, Sanjeeva Singh, an Olympian Archer, shared his experiences of working towards a Post Graduate Certificate in International Sports Management at the University of London whilst studying at a distance in India. Shaped by his distance learning experience, Sanjeeva argued that decolonisation in education comes down to three key components: inclusivity, diversity and innovativeness. He believes that learning material should be as diverse as the students accessing them.

The audience posed many interesting questions regarding access to digital technology, differences in cultures, and how institutions can ensure inclusivity and promote diversity to prevent prejudice and bias towards Western approaches to learning and teaching.

Dr Linda Amrane-Cooper (Director of the University’s Postgraduate Certificate Learning and Teaching in Higher Education) responded to the need to acknowledge sensitivities and apply feedback from learners in order to ‘decolonise’ the professional framework in which educational providers must work. Taking on board these lived experiences can only improve the quality of the courses that are delivered. As Elizabeth Charles (Assistant Director of Library Services at Birkbeck) reported, the panellists' “different perspectives were a wonderful cross-section of learning from theory and applying to their individual loci and how enriched they felt as a result of this. Linda’s contribution was also very welcome; that level of engagement of acknowledging where the programme or institution is located and starting from, given the validation requirements, yet not shying away from the need to turn that critical lens on the epistemological pillars that support the programme”.