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The Power of Education: A discussion on race and learning.

In honour of Black History month in the UK, Urban Circle hosted an online event: “The Power of Education”. The discussion focused on the theme of education, specifically the power of learning, and the importance it has in improving race relations and issues of structural racism in the UK. Three incredibly educated panellists shared their thoughts and experiences:

Foluke Adebisi: Senior Lecturer at the University of Bristol, specialising in law.

Abu-Bakr Madden Al-Shabazz: Education Consultant, Comparative Sociologist and World Historian in the Black and African experience from prehistory to the contemporary.

Akala: Hip-hop artist, journalist, author, activist, and social entrepreneur.

Here are our key takeaways from the discussions.

How does the school system affect young Black students’ learning?

Abu-Bakr looked at the school system from a historical point of view. He stated that Black people were brought to the Western world to work for Europeans and were denied an education. Therefore, he stressed, “How can Black individuals succeeded in a curriculum and a school system that was purposely designed to keep them from becoming educated?”

“School should be about developing children as individuals, rather than a system that is focused on academic examinations.”

Foluke Adebisi expressed that the structure of the school system must be changed and decolonised. She argued that children cannot learn in an environment where the teacher is seen as a leader and those who speak out against their opinions are arrogant.

Akala shared his personal experience of the education system during the 1960/70s. He, like many young Black men, not only had their formal education but also attended a Saturday School. He did this because the traditional education system was failing him by not presenting a diverse and representative education. Not only this but his attempts to question the education he was receiving about colonisation throughout history were met with resistance from teachers. At the Saturday School, he was taught about Black history, culture, and heritage. Most importantly, he was taught to think critically about the education he received.

What can families, parents and teachers do to support Black pupils?

Al-Shabazz explained that to break this system that is constantly discouraging Black youth from succeeding, parents need to be strong and approach these schools to change the curriculum. He believes that parents who can, should buy their children books that provide a broader education. For teachers, he believes:

“Teachers who walk in with biases (whether it is gender, class, or race bias) in their mind have already failed their student. Rather they need to have high expectations of all students so they can succeed.”

Al-Shabazz noted that school should be about developing children as individuals, rather than a system that is focused on academic examinations. He provided a step-by-step plan for students to develop their personality, and to help them succeed:

  1. Always learn. Push yourself and your brain to constantly learn.

  2. Reflect. Look over everything we have done each day, look at our mistakes, and recognise our strengths.

  3. Physical and mental wellbeing. Are we partaking in exercise, eating healthily, avoiding drugs and substances that will delay our learning?

  4. Social characteristics. How do we interact with other groups of people, and avoid falling into stereotypes? How can we break that colonial lens?

Akala’s experience of teachers in the formal school system was that they treated him differently to white students. He believed teachers felt it was not right for a young Black boy to be so bright and so suppressed his potential. He stressed:

“Black individuals do not want special treatment but rather the same opportunities as white individuals to succeed.”

This educational event has expressed a lot of important topics and opinions, and has opened the discussion on how we can improve the educational system and encourage more students to educate themselves and succeed.


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