Writer: Veronica Yung
Editor: Renata Daou
Graphic Designer: Sasiree Dechwittayaporn
A Eurocentric education can be defined as a curriculum that focuses on Eurocentric or Western ideas and ignores the histories and contributions that ethnic minorities have made to predominantly white countries.
Eurocentricity is seen in the sugar-coating of information presented to children. This is prominent in teachings about Indigenous peoples in Canada and the USA, with many textbooks suggesting that the Indigenous peoples willingly moved out of their native land. An example of this would be the Canadian textbook: Complete Canadian Curriculum Grade 3, which stated that ‘The Frist Nations Peoples agreed to move to different areas to make room for the new settlements.’ A similar situation is the textbook by Mcgraw Hill called Black people brought to the USA during the Atlantic Slave Trade period ‘workers.’ These situations downplay the harm that Black and Indigenous people have gone through as a result of European colonialism in the Americas, and results in many people being unaware of the true extent of the actions of European settlers.
Another example of Eurocentricity is the limited representation of people of colour (POC) in the curriculum itself, which is prominent in the UK. The English national curriculum has been described to ‘systemically [omit] the contribution of Black British history in favour of a dominant, white, Eurocentric curriculum.’ This is seen largely in the curriculums of the English Literature qualification for the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE), in which the largest three exam boards (AQA, OCR, EdExcel), have very few POC writers. Within the 3/15 texts from AQA and 2/6 texts from OCR written by POC writers, the only authors of colour featured are Meera Syal and Kazuo Ishiguro (who are Indian British and Japanese British, respectively), with ‘Anita and Me’ and ‘Never Let Me Go’ appearing in both lists.
The prominence of Eurocentricity in the school curriculum is also evident in the texts used to start a discussion around racism, which are often either ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ or ‘Of Mice and Men,’ both written from the perspectives of white men. This shows that even within discussions that are focused on ethnic minorities are still told through a Eurocentric lens, instead of highlighting the voices of those who are affected by racism.
There are many effects of a Eurocentric education. One of which is that it leads to unconscious bias against ethnic minorities as other cultures are not presented, which would be supported by the biased perspective European history is taught in. Unconscious bias as a result of eurocentric education can also be seen beyond high school education. This was seen in a nursing textbook, published by the reputable company, Pearson, that had a section called ‘Cultural Differences in Response to Pain,’ with statements such as Black people 'often report higher pain intensity than other cultures.’ This edition of the book was published up until people spoke out about it in 2017, showing how current the influence of Eurocentricity is on education.
There are many harmful effects of unconscious bias, including the lack of job opportunities. In Britain, white job applicants are 74% more likely to succeed more than those of an ethnic minority. A study by a research team led by Jenessa Shapiro of UCLA also showed that white participants often perceived Black faces as more threatening than white faces with the same expression.
While a lot of these unconscious biases might not be a direct result of eurocentrism, it could alleviate some of these biases if people have an understanding of different cultures and their histories, rather than just that of Western Europe and North American countries.
Eurocentric education also has a direct effect on diaspora children (children who live outside the country of their ethnic background) in subjects such as History, as the children are unable to engage in topics in which they do not relate to. This is evident in the UK, where a Freedom of Information request by the Historical Association revealed that only 4% of A-Level History students were Black, and only 6% were Asian. While there are other contributing factors, the lack of non-European options in the GCSE syllabus could have an effect on the lack of interest. The AP US World History curriculum also presents a problem with a lack of representation outside of Europe. The syllabus includes:
7 units on Europe
1 unit on colonialism in Asia
1 unit on colonialism in Africa
1 on American colonialism
Changes have to be made to curriculums all across western schools. This includes making sure that race is taught from the perspective of people of colour. Instead of books such as ‘Of Mice and Men’ or ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ use books such as ‘Americanah’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie which discusses racism in the USA from a Nigerian perspective. Another way is by changing what is taught in textbooks by making sure that information is not sugar-coated or false.
Countries, such as Wales, have already taken action. In Wales, children must be taught about the contributions of Black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) communities in history and education to prevent racism. Further changes beyond the curriculum include: anti-racism and diversity training for trainee teachers, scholarships for BAME to enter teacher training and mentoring/social support for BAME teachers.
Action in the USA includes California becoming the first state to require ethnic studies in order to graduate high school, with courses having to be offered beginning the 2025-26 school year. Other successes include Connecticut being the first state requiring high schools to offer Black and Latino studies, and New Jersey requiring courses on diversity and infusion in public schools.
There is still a long way to go with changes being gradual, however, this is a step in the right direction in order to provide a larger cultural understanding of the rest of the world.