Decolonise the Curriculum International Schools

This piece is a guest blog from @Pak_Liam. An experienced International School Headteacher.

Schools for the future

“Listen, we are not growing to move all this forward with tokenism, we really have to grasp the thing and move forward in a spectacular way!” (Heppel, 2011) 

Schools are already adapting, such as many of the plethora of Charter schools in the US, and many IB schools in the international circuit.  The International Baccalaureate has based much of its Middle Years Programme, for students aged 11-16, on the work of several researchers, such as Wiggins & McTighe and Lyn Erickson  (International Baccalaureate, 2014) and in the next five years, many more schools will move towards this type of learning.  The big key to the work of these researchers is based around curriculum, how we teach, what we teach and how we assess. 

Concept-based Curriculum

“Understanding by Design, not by good fortune, not be dumb luck, not by virtue of just having a few smart articulate kids, but by design” (Wiggins, 2012).  Schools need to move away from their old ideas of a curriculum being based around a series of topics or content heavy curriculum. Wiggins & McTighe make the case that just covering content does not indicate mastery or allow students the skills they need to do anything with that random knowledge.  A curriculum needs to be purposely designed, starting from the mission statement of the school outlining what we what to achieve, what we expect the students will be able to do, once they complete their schooling.  

In the next five years, schools will have begun the important task of deconstructing the curriculum and rewriting the curriculum in a series of final performance goals.  Science students will be able to design experiments, mathematicians analyze patterns and data, language students communicate effectively in their target language, artists create meaningful pieces of work and historians analyse source documents to create a picture of a historical period. 

Schools should also have a coherent and continuous curriculum document or platform that allows all stakeholders, students, teachers, parents, and administrators, appropriate access to the curriculum and shows articulation both vertically and horizontally. 

Decolonise the Curriculum 

In the process of rewriting the curriculum schools will also have made excellent steps in, what a blogger, Pranav Patel, describes as ‘decolonising the curriculum’.  The curriculum of many current international schools is western-centric, English courses might be full of the English classic novels, science courses full of achievements of English and American scientists, History biased towards a Western time period.  The achievements of People of Colour (POC) are not always highlighted as often as they should be. Thus a decolonised curriculum will be rich with novels written by a variety of people, not just White. A decolonised curriculum will have units of work from the perspective of countries, not just England or America. “Decolonising the curriculum is not about people of colour or the global majority, it is more about the global minority (those racialised as white). “ (Patel, 2019).  In the next five years, schools will have rewritten their curricula with decolonising in mind. 

Assessment Practises

Assessment is intimately linked to performance goals, in the process of rewriting the curriculum, assessment practises also need to change and move beyond mere factual recall.  (Wiggins & McTighe, 2007) Schools need to understand that the process of rewriting a curriculum that is based on learning skills for the 21st Century is that their assessment practises and understanding of assessment will need to change also.  Learners need authentic assessment tasks that are based around worthy academic challenges and rich and complex tasks. Assessment needs to include a variety of modes to be fair for all learners and be a complete picture of what students can do. 

Nominated School

As I am moving to a new school, I envisage that one of the first things I will need to do is audit the current curriculum, work with the coordinators, and discover where my new school currently is at.  From visits, I suspect that their work has only just begun, so I will have a challenge in building the case for curricula (and teaching and learning) change and then work towards the whole school rewriting the curriculum in a coherent manner with the ideas and concepts outlined above.  However, the potential for improvement is tremendous and rather exciting as the school will move towards a school that really prepares students for their future rather than mundanely and predictably plods through a mish-mash of topics and unconnected content K through 12. In other words, my school will rewrite their curriculum by Design!



International Baccalaureate. (2014). MYP: From Principles into Practise [Ebook].

Patel, P.  (2019). Decolonise the Curriculum.  The Teacherist [Blog]. Retrieved from 

Heppell, S. (2011). Learning Without Frontiers. Retrieved from

What is UbD?  (2012). Grant Wiggins Answers, with Video Cases.  Retrieved from

Wiggins & McTighe. (2007). Schooling by design: Mission, action and achievement.  

Alexandria, VA.  Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.





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