School textbooks to get Black Lives Matter makeover as Pearson launches new race guidelines

Camilla Turner
·3 min read
 It comes amid growing calls among academics and students to “decolonise” the curriculum
It comes amid growing calls among academics and students to “decolonise” the curriculum

School textbooks are to get a Black Lives Matter makeover as Pearson says it intends to remove references to “Master” and “Slave” from all its major titles.

Pearson, which owns the exam board Edexcel and is one of the UK’s largest education publishers, has drawn up its first ever in-depth guidelines on race and ethnicity.

The company said its new editorial guidelines - which will be sent to all authors and editors - will help to “fight systematic racism in education”.

It comes amid growing calls among academics and students to “decolonise” the curriculum, which have gained traction in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests last summer.

One of a series of updates Pearson will make to its textbooks is to remove the use of the terminology “Master” and “Slave” which is used in engineering and computer science to describe a system where one device has control over another. “Pearson has recently remediated instances of biased terminology and imagery in courseware based on student feedback,” a spokesman said.

The company has already reviewed the content of 100 of its best-selling and most popular textbooks to check whether the use of “Master” and “Slave” or any other instances of bias that need to be amended in light of its latest standards.

Pearson explained that another example of bias would be a textbook containing an imbalance of a historical account, such as slavery not being mentioned in a reading text about the Civil War.

Under its new race and ethnicity guidelines, authors are told to “proactively” include more examples of people from minority ethnicities as “positive role models”.

They are also advised that people who are depicted as being in a position of power, influence or authority should be from a range of nationalities and ethnic minorities rather than being overly “UK/US-centric”.

Writers are told not to make “unnecessary distinctions” between people of different ethnicities and that the idea that people from certain ethnic groups have abilities that are limited to any one arena.

For example, textbooks should not have black male students engaging in sports or south Asian female students choosing academic pursuits.

Authors should also be “wary” of using terms like “disadvantaged”, “oppressed” and “‘vulnerable” in relation to individuals or groups from minority ethnicities or religions.

All content production staff should be given mandatory unconscious bias training “on a rolling basis”.

Ebrahim Matthews, senior vice president of Pearon’s global schools division, said: “2020 was a year of enormous change and action across the world when it comes to race and ethnic equality. It has highlighted the need for action to address systemic inequality that people from diverse backgrounds face every day.

“The work we do at Pearson makes a real difference in the lives of millions of people and there is more we can and should do. This is an important step to address systemic and personal bias related to race and ethnicity in academic content, and to ensure that what we produce is anti-racist, accurate and authentic.”

Dr Jason Arday, an associate professor of sociology at Durham University who assisted Pearson with the guidelines, said they represent a “cultural shift” in publishing that “attempts to center race and racial equality at its core”.