An integral component in our Anti-Racist Action Plan (ARAP) is the Curriculum Review—a three-year audit of our programs with a view to identify and interrogate structures of difference, power, and equity that are uniquely present in each of program locations. This review is intended to be sweeping and comprehensive, tackling both what we teach (e.g. how we determine and structure program curricula, how we curate course offerings, etc.) and how we teach and set students up to learn, both in and of the classroom.
This initiative began as a working group to reflect on the colonial implications of international education. However, we found that as a study abroad provider operating programs in countries overseas, broadly “decolonizing” is not possible in this context. We are dealing with systemic marginalization nuanced by local history and cultures and aim to navigate this audit with respect, intention, and sensitivity. As a result, the Curriculum Review was launched with the intent to examine and challenge our curricular content as it exists and the ways in which we teach it.
It is important for us to respect the autonomy and expertise of our program staff. As such, this review is neither prescriptive nor is it a top-down approach. Instead, we are employing a query-based approach that is largely helmed by on-site academic staff and their respective program directors.
We provided each program site with a common set of questions to guide critical engagement with issues of power, difference, and equity in the development and delivery of our curricula. However, this set of queries is simply a suggestion—it is assumed and understood that structures and dynamics will vary widely across program locations and subject matter. This question set covers four broad categories: context, canon, faculty, and pedagogy. Here are just a few examples of provided questions to guide the review:
- Does the syllabus intentionally include topics and activities geared towards bringing students out of their comfort zone by questioning their preconceived notions around a certain subject?
- Does the syllabus expose students to non-written reference material such as testimonials, performances, and/or other experiential elements as a means of featuring knowledge-acquisition processes that include elements of non-formal education?
- Have faculty received their formal academic training in the host country? If not, how have they embedded and leveraged their academic credentials within the local context?
- Does the course intentionally bring in guest lecturers or local members of the community to present an alternative perspective to that of the professor or the theory/perspective being studied?
Once we developed a guiding set of queries and training materials, our Curriculum Review co-chairs hosted a workshop to train and familiarize relevant staff members. Afterwards each program site followed a year-long process to be repeated throughout the remaining duration of the review:
- Each program site conducts a query-based self-study.
- Based on those results, academic staff identify three to five curricular/co-curricular/pedagogical elements that could benefit from greater attention to issues of difference, power, and equity. On-site academic staff then create an actionable work plan and work with Curriculum Review co-chairs and senior faculty to identify strategies for doing so.
- Pilot changes in programs.
- Assess the success of the changes and determine whether further tweaking is needed. If not, repeat the process and identify another set of elements to engage in the coming academic year.
Our End Goal
At the end of this 3-year audit, we hope to have established a new normal for the what and how in our approach to education. For the what, we aim to have identified power structures that characterize the local/regional contexts in which our programs operate—historical and/or colonial legacies, national geopolitical forces, political, social, and economic factors that shape the host environment—and hope to more skillfully and explicitly address them in our curriculum and co-curriculum. The how of this audit involves the production of knowledge itself within our programs—we strive to create a learning environment that eschews hierarchical classroom structures and encourages students to think critically and include perspectives beyond mainstream narratives in their pursuit of answers.
Though this initiative is considered “complete” after three years, we acknowledge that this type of work is never truly finished. It is our hope that the built-in repetition of three structured audit cycles over three years establishes a system for us, as educators, to continually challenge and refine our curricula. And as a result, we hope our brief time with students helps contribute to a generation of scholars, problem-solvers, and creative minds that are active participants in their education—both in school and in their futures.