A student from the University of East Anglia (UEA) spoke in the House of Commons after her petition to integrate diversity into the school curriculum reached 88,000 signatures.
Cynthia Ashlyne Muthoni who is 22 and studying MSc Climate Change and International Development at UEA presented via video link to a joint session of the Petitions Committee and Women and Equalities Committee on Thursday (5 November).
She is classed as vulnerable to COVID-19 and therefore was unable to physically attend protests over the death of George Floyd in the USA and calls for racial equality in the UK in June, so as an alternative method of protest she started the online petition. Within 48 hours of Cynthia setting up the online petition it gained 10,000 signatures, the necessary amount needed for the Government to respond, and it has steadily grown to just over 88,000 signatures.
Cynthia has experienced and witnessed racism throughout her life. She believes that the key to preventing it in education, healthcare, employment and other parts of society is to actively teach anti-racism to children in schools, so the next generation doesn’t become perpetrators or victims.
She said: “I remember being in school and always being called by the name of another black pupil despite us looking completely different. Teachers were angry to the point they would begin yelling at me for not responding and were later embarrassed by their actions. Sadly, this isn’t the only time I have been subject to racism.
“I would like teachers to be given appropriate anti-racism training, so they feel knowledgeable, confident, and empowered teaching such topics as well as when providing advice and assistance with any incidents of racism.
“Seeing the response to the petition is heart-warming, knowing so many people are co-signing and advocating for your idea because they recognise its importance. It gives you more confidence in your beliefs, it encourages you, and your determination becomes unwavering.
“It’s an honour to appear in parliament in any sense, but to be given the privilege to voice your ideas to people who have the power to affect real change is truly incredible. I feel prepared to combat this argument and demonstrate the necessity of education on racism and diversity being made mandatory.
“My aim is to have this idea transformed into legislation so that a significant portion of the curriculum is dedicated to deconstructing ideas of racism, providing children with tools necessary to combat racism, to become anti-racist and an ally.
“Instead of diversity (racially, ethnically, and culturally) being something children are told to tolerate, it should be something they are taught to celebrate. Diversity isn’t just acknowledgement of differences it’s the empowerment of the elements that make us different.”
Catherine McKinnell MP, Chair of the Petitions Committee, said: “I am pleased that the Petitions Committee is able to hold this joint evidence session with the Women and Equalities Committee and members of the Education Committee on such an important issue. This joint work allows us to delve deeper into concerns to petitioners that cut across policy areas.
“In the last few months, petitions calling for greater diversity in the National Curriculum have seen more than 390,000 signatures. Although the Government’s response to one of these petitions states that the curriculum provides teachers with ‘opportunities…to teach about Britain’s role in colonisation and the transatlantic slave trade’, many petitioners feel this does not go far enough in ensuring that students experience a fully diverse education all year round.”
Caroline Nokes MP, Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee added: “To tackle racism and create a more equal and just society, we must understand and learn from the past. That starts in schools, with a more inclusive history curriculum. The sheer number of signatures these petitions have received show the strength of feeling on these issues. The Woman and Equalities Committee wants to work with the Petitions Committee and colleagues on the Education Committee to explore this in more detail.”
To view the petition, visit: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/323808