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Saturday, May 28, 2022

The marginalisation and exclusion of Indo-Caribbeans in the CXC History syllabus [Part 2]

At a webinar on Zoom recently, I presented part of a research paper I had originally delivered at a conference at the University the West Indies (UWI) in 2017 entitled “The Marginalisation and Exclusion of Indians by the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) in the CSEC and CAPE History and Literature Syllabi”.I was later given an opportunity to do the same presentation to the CXC Board at its headquarters in Barbados.

During the Q+A in the ZOOM webinar, attendee Dr Radica Mahase, questioned my content analysis and findings. She said that based on her knowledge of, and experience in teaching the CSEC Caribbean History syllabus: “I see things a little different from how you all have been discussing so far. The first thing I want to do is to point out some other areas where we cover Indian indentured labourers and the Indian diaspora in the syllabus– areas that Dr Mahabir did not include in his presentation – that is Theme 6, under Caribbean Economy 1875-1985. We cover all the economic activities – both sugar and non-sugar”.

However, an analysis of past CSEC history papers – from 2011 when the syllabus was last updated -shows that there has never been a question about Indian immigrants and immigration in the section on Theme 6. There are general questions on Theme 5, Adjustments to Emancipation, 1838 – 1876. This omission illustrates that the Indian immigrants are of interest only with respect to the place they occupy in the story of the emancipation of the enslaved Africans rather than as a people with a history in their own right.

Mahase also proffered that “Indian indentureship is also included under Theme 9, Caribbean Society 1900 and 1985”, pointing out that “it is one of the most popular topics for the SBAs that students have to do because of the prevalence of both primary and secondary sources.”

Plea to liberate the curriculum from bias

An analysis of past CSEC Caribbean History Paper 2 responses indicates that the questions that are posed in the section on Theme 9 that relate to Indian immigrants and their descendants are generally either not popular choices among candidates taking this exam, or they are poorly answered.

Mahase indicated that from her experiencein participating in CSEC history teachers’ workshops “teachers choose to focus on topics with which they are knowledgeable or familiar or comfortable. In other words, the history of Indian immigration to the Caribbean is not a topic with which the region’s history teachers are knowledgeable or comfortable. Why is this?

Could it be that although there is certainly material in the CSEC Caribbean History syllabus that covers the subject of Indian indentured immigrants (however cursorily), they are explicitly and obviously underrepresented to the point where the teachers themselves are not sufficiently grounded in the knowledge of the subject to be at ease in teaching it?

If that is the case, what can be done to overcome this? Indo-Caribbean people have a right to feel like they also belong to and included, and are seen in the curriculum. Listening to a recording of the webinar, the moderator, Bindu Deokinath Maharaj, expressed her own frustration at not being able to see herself, her history or her ancestry in the CXC syllabus.

She added: “Even at university when I was doing courses in cultural studies and cultural identity, there wasn’t much about Indianness in them … I wasn’t able to go and get any information about my place and who I am in terms of Caribbean identity and space”.

This is a grave injustice to the identity of Indo-Caribbean youths. My content analysis showed that People of East Indian descent are neglected in the CXC History and Literature syllabus. Educators advocating in favour of maintaining the status quo are promulgating cultural erasure. 

Therefore, I am advocating for greater representation of the largest ethnic minority group in the English-speaking Caribbean.

In the USA, African-Americans have often been marginalised and sometimes excluded in the curriculum as a numerical ethnic minority. Popular African-American novelist Toni Morrison (1989) wrote: “We are not, in fact, ‘other’.” And African-American writer James Baldwin expanded on Morrison’s position: “If … one managed to change the curriculum in all the schools so that African-Americans learned more about themselves and their real contributions to this culture, you would be liberating not only African-Americans; you’d be liberating white people who know nothing about their own history.”

I am saying, therefore, that if you liberate the curriculum, if you free the curriculum, if you emancipate that curriculum and make it more holistic and more inclusive, we, the people of East Indian descent would not only learn about ourselves, but the rest of the society would learn about people of East Indian descent, and the entire region would become enriched as a result.

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Dr. Kumar Mahabir
Dr. Kumar Mahabir
Dr. Kumar Mahabir, Assistant Professor University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) Chairman, Indo-Caribbean Cultural Centre Co. Ltd. (ICC) E-mail: [email protected]


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