Decolonizing our Education System

I have discussed Critical Theory and its impact on western society in several of my recent blogs. This article will cover the decolonization of our education system which is a key tenet of Critical Theory.

We have seen in New Zealand, America, and Britain how Critical Theory has been applied to undermine the fundamentals of the current education system. Critical Theory is founded in Marxist ideology with its main aim to undermine the existing system and replace it.  In New Zealand, we have witnessed the decolonizing of the existing education system with the history curriculum replaced with an indigenous perspective to adhere to our supposed Treaty of Waitangi obligations. The same is seen in the new draft science curriculum, which has essentially “dumbed” down the core values of science. It does not even mention the periodic table but emphasises indigenous values. As some critics have noted, our students would not be able to enter university here or in Australia, for example.

Yet, our universities are also being indigenised, so maybe, not having a knowledge of “western” science will be necessary. That maybe flippant, but this is the point of this article. I will present two sides of this argument for you to understand what is happening.

Elizabeth Rata wrote in University World News, “New Zealand’s universities have in great haste, and without debate, embraced anti-universal decolonization and indigenisation. While a recommitment to the principle of universalism is not impossible, it will depend upon university leaders with the courage to speak in defence of science.” *1

On the other side Fay Patel writes in the University World News, “In reflecting upon these knowledge forms and our colonized perspectives, we must question the Western roots of our theoretical frameworks. This was the focus of the RAACES Conference in Canada in 2021, where there was an emphasis on the necessity to humanise and decolonize discussions in international higher education in order to advocate for the voices, world views and perspectives of the oppressed.”*2

In essence, this is an ideological war between those who believe in the individual nature of science, and the need to decolonize it and give more weight to indigenous cultures that have been supressed. As Elizabeth Rata explains, “The answer has deep historical roots. Decolonization and indigenisation are today’s expression of the Counter-Enlightenment communitarianism ethos that has resisted the Enlightenment’s liberal democratic ideals since the 18th century.”3  She adds that “Decolonizing and indigenising all government institutions, including the education system and the universities, are retribalism’s strategies.”*4

The argument according to Fay Patel is that higher education “models are representative of the carefully designed agendas of colonial powers. Present and future agendas in international higher education continue to be designed and driven by colonial actors.”*5

Students have been trained in colonial concepts, and thus “International higher education institutions, as agencies for change, should ensure that higher education programmes, education conferences and strategies become catalysts for change.”*6 But what are these changes? What do these changes represent and what are the replacements for thousands of years of scientific history that has come from the Greeks, Islam, China, and Europe? The actual replacement is not clearly defined by Patel in her article. It is more of a battle cry to tear down one system and replace it with “indigenous knowledge forms and lived experience.”*7 Thus, the question remains, is this science?

Rata argues that this form of attack in universities is a prolonged attack on individual thought. Thus, the problem is science itself. “Its truth-seeking mission cannot operate without reason, and reason cannot exist without the individual. It is the individual who thinks and it is science’s abstractions that train thought into rational logic.”*8 Further, “Science allows individuals to develop and justify naturalistic explanations for physical and social phenomena (and) traditional knowledge can be included, but only by submitting to scientific criticism.”*9

However, Patel’s anti-colonist view is “In keeping with the history of colonized nations that fought for their freedoms and independence from their colonial masters, it is necessary to reignite the passion for freedom among them that was exercised during their colonial captivity, and to break free from the shadows of the colonizers in whatever disguises they assume in the present and future.”*10 She argues further that the colonizer landscape “will require the colonized and poverty-stricken nations to lead on the humanisation and decolonization agendas of international higher education.”*11

In other words, there is no debate, only a dismantling of the so-called colonial order for a new order, not necessarily based on science. “Higher education institutions are charged with the responsibility and accountability to forge a new path… empowering the downtrodden masses to confront the injustices they face, but also to build a present and future that will embrace the whole of humanity in a decolonized world.”*12

This view leaves us with a problem. Decolonization and indigenisation will split the science world into two parts. “…one group will comprise those who receive a sound understanding of science, mathematics and the humanities. Their intelligence will be developed in the demanding engagement with this complex knowledge. It is to be hoped that they will serve as the guardians of the Enlightenment’s democratic modernity.

“The second group will comprise those who remain restricted to the type of knowledge acquired from experience and justified in identity ideologies. Discrediting science as ‘Western’, identity-based cultural beliefs and practices will exclude these young people from the benefits of a scientific education.”*13

Yes, this is an ideological “war,” but have our university leaders, politicians, and the wider community fully understood what is at stake?


Below is a good example of decolonizing and indigenisation of the New Zealand math curriculum by the current Labour Government:

“A critical maths pedagogical approach uses maths to develop critical awareness about wider social, environmental, political, ideological, and economic issues. Critical maths recognises the importance of understanding, interpreting, and addressing issues of power, social justice and equity in the community and the wider world. Akonga are encouraged to interrogate dominant discourses and assumptions, including that maths is benign, neutral, and culture free.”

*1 Elizabeth Rata, University World News, 03 June 2023

*2 Fay Patel, University World News, 15 April 2023

*3 Elizabeth Rata, University World News, 03 June 2023

*4 Elizabeth Rata, University World News, 03 June 2023

*5 Fay Patel, University World News, 15 April 2023

*6 Fay Patel, University World News, 15 April 2023

*7 Fay Patel, University World News, 15 April 2023

*8 Elizabeth Rata, University World News, 03 June 2023

*9 Elizabeth Rata, University World News, 03 June 2023

*10 Fay Patel, University World News, 15 April 2023

*11 Fay Patel, University World News, 15 April 2023

*12 Fay Patel, University World News, 15 April 2023

*13 Elizabeth Rata, University World News, 03 June 2023

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