David Oyelowo Says Black History Should Be Taught in British Schools

David Oyelowo
YouTube Screenshot
David Oyelowo
YouTube Screenshot

In 2012 Stephanie Pitter, a former teaching assistant, school governor and mother of four from the United Kingdom, started a campaign for a mandatory black-history curriculum in primary education in the U.K. A website dedicated to the campaign, along with a petition that has already received more than 40,000 signatures, recently caught the attention of Selma’s David Oyelowo.


In a recent interview with the Africa Channel, Oyelowo said he hopes that eventually students in Britain are taught black history and not just the “nice bits.”

“I think it’s more than important, I think it’s invaluable,” Oyelowo said. “Black people are a part of the fabric of this nation. We pride ourselves now on being a multicultural society; it is outmoded and outdated to remove black history from schools because, like I say, it is a very real part of British history and British culture.

“My hope would be that we don’t just put in the nice bits, we put in the not-so-nice bits as well, which are very real, in terms of colonialism, in terms of racism, in terms of the things that happened in the past in this country,” he continued. “Not because we want anyone to feel bad about the past, but so that we don’t make the same mistakes going forward.”

The petition has received feedback from the U.K. government, but it may not be the exact feedback organizers want to hear:

The government believes that as part of a broad and balanced curriculum, pupils should learn about different cultures, and about how different groups have contributed to the development of Britain. The content and structure of the new history curriculum provides plenty of scope for black history to be covered. However, this is not prescribed in detail within the statutory programs of study. Instead schools have the flexibility to deal with these topics in ways that are appropriate and sensitive to the needs of their pupils.

Specifically in the history programs of study, in primary, Rosa Parks and Mary Seacole are listed at key stage 1 as examples of significant individuals in the past that pupils could be taught about, who have contributed to national and international achievements. At key stage 2, pupils should be taught about a non-European society that provides contrasts with British history—one study chosen from: early Islamic civilization, including a study of Baghdad c. A.D. 900; Mayan civilization c. A.D. 900; Benin (West Africa) c. A.D. 900-1300.

Pupils can develop these opportunities further at secondary school level. Key stage 3 includes the example of the impact through time of the migration of people to, from and within the British Isles, as well as Indian independence and end of Empire. In addition, in citizenship at key stage 4, pupils should be taught about the diverse national, regional, religious and ethnic identities in the United Kingdom and the need for mutual respect and understanding. The new national curriculum, including the programs of study for history, can be found at the following site: http://tinyurl.com/oh9swhp

It is important that pupils develop an understanding of the key events that have shaped the history of Britain. Teachers do however have the freedom to teach aspects of the history of other cultures, in addition to the core content, to meet the needs of their pupils.

The petition is set to close Tuesday, and the government stated that if it receives more than 100,000 votes, it would be considered for debate by the Backbench Business Committee.