Takao Terui, Karin Ling-Fung Chau (PhD students from the Department of Culture, Media & Creative Industries (CMCI) at King’s College London), and Dr. Hye-Kyung Lee (CMCI) are addressing the gap between the substantial presence of Asian students and the systematic absence of Asian perspectives in the core curriculum on culture, media and creative industries. We find that 64.5% of students on CMCI’s MA programmes are of South and East Asian nationality, but the core modules contain very few materials by Asian scholars and are largely based on the literature written by scholars in the West (UK, US and Europe). To understand and bridge the gap, we have carried out a research project that examines the CMCI’s existing core curricula and teaching, with the purpose of diversifying teaching materials and creating a safe and inclusive learning environment for students.
The project employs interdisciplinary approaches and mixed research methods including syllabus surveys, interviews and student focus groups to engage staff and students in decolonising the CMCI MA curriculum.
We reviewed the core modules offered as of 2020 for three MA programmes (Arts and Cultural Management; Cultural and Creative Industries; and Global Media Industries) by looking at their weekly themes, the list of core readings per module, lecture slides, and seminar descriptions to identify diversity in authors and their affiliations as well as geographical cases used in lectures and seminars. We also conducted interviews with seven staff members and two focus groups with MA students from East Asian backgrounds of CMCI to understand their understanding of curriculum decolonisation, views about the current CMCI curriculum and teaching/learning experience. The key findings of our project can be grouped under three themes: diverse views about curriculum decolonisation, effective pedagogical practices and persistent pedagogical challenges.
Diverse Views about Curriculum Decolonisation
The initial finding suggests that whilst staff members are very motivated to realise the curricula change, they have diverse understandings of what is meant by decolonising the curriculum.
[T]he importance of decolonisation is recognising that the end of the colonialism, [..] has not necessarily ended the legacy of empires. And that I see that legacy as being deeply ingrained into all structures, including that of the university. (KCL CMCI Academic staff A)
I think [decolonising is] a project of trying to address the multiple axes of power that have ebbed and flowed across the world, it works as a term to try and uncover those things and try and make up for our own ignored, obfuscated or unknowable histories, and presents. (KCL CMCI Academic staff B)
[W]e're thinking about class, ethnicity, race, sexuality, gender, disability. We’re talking about all the aspects of diversity that, I think, also feed into decolonisation and internationalisation. (KCL CMCI Academic staff C)
Effective Pedagogical Practices
Staff members have been using a wide range of pedagogical tools to actively advance their ideas of curriculum decolonisation such as (1) introducing diverse examples and balanced views to get students engaged, (2) bringing critical perspectives to canons and Western classics, and (3) making use of online resources.
Persistent Pedagogical Challenges
The project has also identified the major challenges in developing a more inclusive curriculum and learning environment within the CMCI. The stigmatisation of Asian students, exacerbated by the lack of diversity in student composition, remains a significant barrier to change. It is also significant but still challenging to design a curriculum that fits the need and expectations of students with diverse backgrounds. The lack of resources and materials that are translated into English is also identified as an enduring obstacle. It is difficult for staff to access non-English and non-Western resources as no support and resources are given to the collection and translation of non-English texts. Without support for translation, it is also challenging for staff to use non-English texts in class even if the staff members understand the texts, let alone those who do not understand the languages and do not have access to the texts. The fact that developing a more inclusive curriculum requires a lot of extra time and effort from staff has yet been fully recognised at the College level.
Responses from Students
Students share the similar concerns and expectations with staff members. Student focus groups enabled us to collect their voices and opinions such as their expectations for a more diverse curriculum and their experiences of online teaching. For instance,
I definitely want to hear some examples for Singapore and Africa. It doesn’t necessarily have to be China, but I’m very happy if we can have other examples that was world-wide, not just Europe or the US, which we traditionally assumed that they are more advanced. (KCL CMCI MA student A)
I think for me, it does not have to be China, but I would like to hear more about the global examples. I want to hear what the researchers, not making comparisons, just introduce more examples from global South, it will feel more inclusive, diversity to some extent. (KCL CMCI MA student B)
At the same time, they also appreciate the efforts made by staff members and comment their positive experiences of online seminars and lectures which enabled them to go beyond their comfort zone and avoid grouping based on their ethnicity.
I think, to be honest, I quite like the online version because I think it forces you to engage with different students. And I would be afraid if we go onto campus, basically, that we go into seminars and people would choose to hang out with people that they know. People just sit around with people of their own race. And I think that's something that very prevalent in the UK. (KCL CMCI MA student C)
I really think online learning encouraged me to be more brave, I would like to say be more brave to take part the seminars, because I know what person I am, if I attend maybe a 100 person lecture or the offline seminar, I would tend to be embarrassed to talk in front of the public. (KCL CMCI MA student D)
Based on the research findings, we propose recommendations in three areas: 1) resources for inclusive curriculum building; 2) diversity strategising and planning, and 3) resources for Asian community building. These include measures to develop clear strategies for diversifying core readings for MA programmes; providing support for scoping and translating key non-English texts in our field; collaborating with non-Western institutions and scholars; and syllabus co-creation with students and GTAs. We also suggest new hiring strategies, module planning, and diversity training for GTAs.
This project is aimed to review CMCI education from the perspective of curriculum decolonisation and to make a concrete difference in the CMCI core curriculum. Its final report is the first of this kind at the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, and we hope it will be widely used as a helpful benchmark for curriculum decolonising projects in other departments and faculties, and will open up further discussion on curriculum decolonising, diversity and inclusion.
You can find a more detailed and comprehensive discussion in the final report (June 2021).
Profile of the Project Team
Takao Terui (Lead Researcher) is a PhD candidate at the CMCI Department. Takao also is leading another project titled ‘Bringing Asian Perspectives into the CMCI Education’ funded by KCL Race, Equity and Inclusive Education Fund.
Karin Ling-Fung Chau (Co-Researcher) is a PhD candidate at the CMCI Department. She was a part-time lecturer in the Global Creative Industries Programme at the University of Hong Kong. She is the co-author of Tradition and Transformation in a Chinese Family Business (with Heung Wah Wong, Routledge 2020).
Dr. Hye-Kyung Lee (Co-Researcher) is a Reader in Cultural Policy at the Department of Culture, Media and Creative Industries, King’s College London, UK. Her publications include Cultural Policies in East Asia (2014), Cultural Policy in South Korea: Making a New Patron State (Routledge 2019), Asian Cultural Flows (Springer 2018) and Routledge Handbook of Cultural and Creative Industries in Asia (2019).