What does it mean to decolonise Computing and IT - Another dumb buzzword or re-envisaging all cultures and knowledge systems for how the world is framed?

Tompkins, Z. and Ramage, M. (2023). What does it mean to decolonise Computing and IT - Another dumb buzzword or re-envisaging all cultures and knowledge systems for how the world is framed? In: INTED2023: Proceedings of the 11th International Technology, Education and Development Conference, IATED pp. 4250–4261.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21125/inted.2023.1131


There is widespread discussion in higher education (HE) of ‘decolonising’ the university and curricula, which arguably grew from the 2015 Rhodes Must Fall movement firstly in the University of Cape Town, South Africa and then to Oxford University, UK, with the demand by students to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes, a white supremacist. This direct action against institutional racism has its roots in the humanities and social sciences yet there is now a growing interest in how to understand decolonisation in science and technology and what might it mean to decolonise a technical subject such as computing and information technology education.

Some Universities such as Keele (2021) are already producing staff guides on how to decolonise the curriculum but assuming there is no universal template, decolonising must be contextual to the discipline and subject area. In this paper we describe the approach we have been taking at the Open University in the School of Computing and Communications, as we consider new ways of knowing in our decolonial transformation.

Computing is arguably one of the trickiest areas for such work for several reasons. Firstly, we argue that computing needs to be viewed as a sociotechnical field as this helps to bring into focus issues tied up with social relations, political and economic. Secondly our starting point is that as university educators we consciously or unconsciously adopt a Eurocentric/West-centric perspective in production of knowledge and teaching content. We are also complicit because through our educational institution we perpetuate Western dominance, racialised neoliberal capitalism, and the exclusion of the marginalised. Thirdly decolonial change should not be mistaken as an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion initiative as decolonisation goes further and deeper in challenging the Europe/USA centred colonial lens (Ali, 2016).

Acknowledging the power and privilege of the white majority in the West, requires reflection on identity, to think about values and to question and ultimately transform what we think and know. As educators, we have a particular role and responsibility in influencing future computing practices. Our students will go on to design, build and maintain the devices, artifacts, and infrastructures of the future. It is imperative that educators are equipped and supported to recognise and challenge colonial legacies and neo-colonial tendencies in what we teach and how we teach it.

Decolonisation is therefore a complex challenge for HE change and there are many ways of framing, imaging and enacting the decolonisation of higher education within the discipline of computing and IT. Yet as a contested term what does it mean to decolonise? This article will consider our practical experiences of the research project undertaken as we strive to commit to decolonial ethics and politics.

[1] Ali, S. M. (2016) ‘A Brief Introduction to Decolonial Computing’. XRDS: Crossroads, The ACM Magazine for Students, 22(4), pp. 16-21. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1145/2930886 (Accessed 7 November 2022).
[2] Keele University (2021) ‘Decolonising the Curriculum Staff Guide’, Available at: https://www.keele.ac.uk/equalitydiversity/equalityframeworksandactivities/decolonisingthecurriculum/Keele%20University%20DTC%20Staff%20Guide%20.pdf (Accessed 15 November 2022).

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