UEA student spoke in the House of Commons about her petition to diversify school curriculum

She said: ‘Diversity should be something children are taught to celebrate’

A UEA student spoke to the House of Commons last week, after her petition to integrate diversity into the school curriculum received 88,000 signatures.

Cynthia Ashlyne Muthoni, 22, is studying MSc Climate Change and International Development and presented to a session of the Petitions Committee and Women and Equalities Committee via video link.

Cynthia created her petition during the first national lockdown, when she was unable to attend Black Lives Matter protests calling for racial equality because she is classed as vulnerable to COVID-19. Within 48 hours of setting it up, her petition gained 10,000 signatures from supporters.

Originally from Oxford but living in Norwich, Ms Muthoni said she has experienced and witnessed racism throughout her life and believes that teaching anti-racism at schools could be a key preventative measure. Her petition suggests schools should “deconstruct taught ideas of racism to children so they do not go on to become perpetuators or victims of racism”, encouraging them to make classes “about diversity and racism mandatory”.

She said: “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 issues of concern to petitioners which 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.”