British history curriculum – what is being taught?

PAG Staff Uncategorised

The British Isles have a rich history. Britain has seen an industrial revolution, the rise of democracy, and government transform from a feudal system reliant on exploitation to carrying the responsibility to govern for the good of the people it represents. For many, a crowning achievement of this country was to stop the advance of Nazi Germany across Europe, thwarting Adolf Hitler’s attempt to create a new world order. In large part, the British history curriculum captures elements of all of these experiences. However, Mr Barbar Raja has come to the UK to argue that something extremely significant is missing from the way that history is taught.

Barbar Raja, co-founder of the Gul Mawaz Khan memorial foundation, named after his Grandfather, is working with the Home Office and the British Army to improve Britain’s history curriculum. He believes that the contributions of ethnic minorities to the UK’s development have been historically ignored and that this is causing problems today.

It is certainly true that many of us grow up not appreciating the profound impact that the British Empire had on the world. Mr Raja’s foundation aims to review how we teach history, to teach the History of the First World War as a truly global conflict, which includes the contributions of all those who were involved, rather than simply a European battle. However, for Mr Raja, there is also a personal dimension to this: his grandfather fought for Britain.

The story of Gul Mawaz Khan is a captivating one, with a Laurence of Arabia feel to it. His work garnered the direct recognition of King George, as he sowed support for the British against the Ottoman Empire and ran complex intelligence missions worthy of MI6, even appearing in the King’s staff later in life. Yet, says Barbar, his achievements were never fully recognised, to the point where the Indian Office wrote to the Foreign Secretary on his behalf, “he has sacrificed a great deal and has received no compensation.” Yet, this is not an isolated incident. Over one million Indians fought for Britain in World War One, with nearly 75,000 killed. Beyond that, more than four million people from across the colonies, fought to defend the Empire. The unsung heroes of British India who gave their lives fighting against the theocracy of the Ottomans; and the others, who later stopped the fascism of the Nazis remain largely unsung to this day.

More interestingly, this missing history does not only relate to soldiers. Another person conspicuously absent from British history education is Sophia Singh, a British Indian woman who used her considerable wealth and influence as a suffragette and contemporary of the Pankhurst sisters. Her story is an interesting one, caught between her country and the country of her ancestors, she fought many injustices. In her lifetime she fought both the sexist voting policies of mainland Britain, frequently facing legal battles for refusing to pay tax without representation; and challenged discriminatory policies in the colonies.

However, calls for curriculum reform go beyond making up for lost time. Mr Raja believes that it can fix many problems facing the UK today. It’s a compelling argument. Perhaps he’s right; Amna Saleem, a British Muslim was recently interviewed on BBC news for hitting out against someone arguing that history of Britain belongs only to white Brits, explaining that her Grandfather fought and died defending this very country. Amongst some, there is hope that a greater understanding of this issue will help young British Muslims, caught between religious sectarianism and their national identity, identify more strongly with the UK. Perhaps among other groups, understanding the chequered history of the British Empire could serve to degrade aggressive nationalism and help us cherish living in a more humane and egalitarian society.

Either way, the purpose of the British history curriculum is to teach children about the history of this nation and how it got to where it is today. We should not ignore the contributions of many of the people who played a role in this, and to fail to acknowledge that the UK in which we live today was in part created for us in part by a Sikh Princess and a Muslim warrior.

Article by Dale Claridge