What is colonialism in the classroom?

Course design (syllabus architecture, class activities, evaluation, and assessment) oftentimes relies upon models that are based upon Western hegemonic assumptions.  These systemic underpinnings may reinforce an inherited set of values that [in]visibly benefit learners who have enjoyed access to skills and knowledge systems.  This enables some learners to navigate the course materials with ease, while others may have not had the same preparation/prior experience and therefore could potentially be excluded from these processes.

In this section, we seek to enable course designers to evaluate course design and activities, to identify those that contribute to the colonial nature of the course and its materials, and to explore ways to counteract these practices.

How to apply anti-colonial practices in your class

outlined black and red fists raised in the air

When thinking about issues of colonialism in the classroom, the course designer could consider various components: structure and design of the course (content and flow), individual classroom activities, modes of evaluation and assessment, and the division of labour within a classroom setting. In each of these, one should examine the values that the course is reinforcing.

For example, are there assumptions regarding

  • the knowledge base (content)?
  • the role of the instructor/facilitator and the students (policing)?
  • access to the technology needed for the course?
  • values that are reinforced through the content?
  • student availability (those who work or have other obligations vs. those who are full-time students)?
  • values inherent to the evaluation process?
  • issues of labor (who is doing the work? Who is being compensated and how?)

The activities and reflection below offer one approach to engaging with these issues.


After introducing the course syllabus to students, the instructor/facilitator would ask students to engage with the syllabus critically by reading the course assignments in relation to three guiding questions:

  1. Which skills/experiences do I have that would enable me to succeed in this activity?
  2. Which skills/experiences would I need to be able to better succeed in this activity?
  3. How could this activity change to better reflect my contributions and needs as a learner?

In having done the above activity, collaborate with learners to critically read through the syllabus and assess how the assignments might benefit those who have succeeded from the systemic privilege that is afforded through colonialist educational practices.


After having learners provide feedback regarding the skills/experience that they would need to succeed in the various aspects of the course, such as syllabus design, assignment structure, assessment criteria, the instructor/facilitator would then collaborate with learners to enact critical pedagogy to challenge colonial practices within course design.

List of Readings

Want to learn more about colonialism?

This video provides a brief introduction to the history of colonialism and how it affects people today. There is also a follow-up video on post-colonialism by the same author.