Decolonise the PE Curriculum

A guest post from Andrew Milne. @carmelhealth

I’m not the finished article as a teacher, and helping me on my journey towards becoming a master teacher are the connections I have made with other educators from around the world. 24 years into my career I am still as enthused about teaching PE and Health as I was as an NQT in London in the mid ’90s. 

Eleven years ago I emigrated to America and found myself in a department of 3 and I was the only one teaching Health. In need of a support network, jumping onto Twitter allowed me to get off of my small island and find other teachers from whom I could learn.

Once I was settled in the States and had collated a Twitter PLN of teachers that enabled me to hone my craft and improve my strengths I went to work on my weaknesses. America is a diverse country but I teach in a predominantly white and wealthy school of 4,000 students and felt that I needed to improve my conversations regarding race, inequity and diversity. Following passionate activist-educators from both sides of the Atlantic pointed me to books and other resources that gave me the language that I needed to feel confident in having difficult conversations about race with students and friends.

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As an immigrant, albeit with immense privilege, I immediately started to question the sports and games that I was expected to teach in my PE lessons. I made a list and explored the modern history behind each and realized that a disproportionate number were of North American and European origin. My experience when teaching in London was the same – I taught traditional games, in a traditional manner, and never questioned why. 

When Pran Patel talks about ‘Decolonising the Curriculum’ he is essentially asking all of us to question what we are teaching, and ask ourselves whether what we teach speaks to all of our students. He’s also encouraging us to take a more worldly view of our curriculum. If we expect our students to be global citizens then surely we should be teaching them from a global perspective.

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Why is it that my PE curriculum is dominated by North American and European team games and activities? What is it that I am hoping to teach my students when I ask them to participate in PE and can I achieve those same outcomes, or more, through a new sport or activity from another part of the world? If I want to look at passing, receiving, finding an open space to receive a pass or shutting down a player when I’m a defender in football, surely I can do exactly the same with games and activities from other parts of the world. For that reason, I explored the Maori game of Tapuwae and reached out to teachers from New Zealand to help me understand the game, its brutal history, and the correct Maori language accompanying the game.

“Hit the tupu using the kī”, “Don’t step in the Te Motu!”. It felt strange using language of which I was unsure, but if I was to teach a historic Maori game, it was only right that I introduced my students to Te Reo (Maori).

To me, the game has similarities with netball in that it is an invasion game in which players have specific zones in which they can play. One student informed me that she explained Tapuwae to her Lacrosse coach because she saw that the two games were similar. Another student, when asked why she was having success at the game replied that her basketball skills transferred over to Tapuwae.

Connections were made. I connected with my New Zealand counterparts. I deepened my connections with students by introducing them to a game of which none of them had ever heard, and my students made connections between their traditional curriculum and an ancient game from a distant culture.

By following Pran Patel’s advice from his recent TEDx talk, all it took was “One teacher, one lesson, one classroom” to question the status quo and take steps towards decolonizing the curriculum. It required some work on my part but the results were awesome. I became a better teacher and my students had a more enriching, global experience.
You can find me on Twitter as @carmelhealth and read more about my Tapuwae journey here, which is taken from my blog


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