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University of Bristol: BBC documentary highlights new initiative to increase diversity of school curriculum

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The programme, called We Are England: The Classroom Revolution, looks at CARGO Classroom (Charting African Resilience Generating Opportunities) – the brainchild of local poet Lawrence Hoo and creative director Chaz Golding, who believe schoolchildren are missing important perspectives on history.

They’ve developed a series of interactive free and accessible lessons with the help of academics from the University of Bristol and a team of education experts, aimed at bringing stories of inspiring individuals of African and African diaspora descent into classrooms.

The lessons, which are designed to be included in the key stage 3 history curriculum for pupils aged 11 to 14, use poetry, film and illustrations to make the content more accessible and engaging. Work is also under way to develop appropriate resources for primary schools.

Massive Attack, who have previously spoken out on food poverty and environmental issues and are long-term supporters of the work of Hoo and Golding, have written music to accompany the poetry performances.

David Rawlings, Senior Lecturer in Bristol’s School of Education, appears in the documentary. He’s been working with colleague Professor Julia Paulson to support the development of the CARGO Classroom lessons, developing workshop materials with teachers and building a soon-to-be-launched FutureLearn course to support delivery.

He said: “We know that there are huge problems with representation in our school curriculums. CARGO Classroom offers us a solution. The lessons have the achievements and accomplishments of fifteen individuals of African and African diaspora heritage at their heart. They tell inspiring stories that can only enrich and rebalance the curriculum.”

Among the figures on the CARGO curriculum are revolutionaries such as Nanny of the Maroons (1686–1733), a freedom fighter and leader of resistance to enslavement in Jamaica; Dutty Boukman, a spiritual leader and instigator of the Haitian uprising who died in 1791; and Paul Bogle (1820–1865), a civil rights leader who led a rebellion protesting the injustices of British colonial rule.

Experts from the Faculty of Engineering have partnered with CARGO to tell the story of Lonnie Johnson – an African American inventor, aerospace engineer and entrepreneur, who did a 12-year stint at NASA working on the Galileo mission to Jupiter and the stealth bomber programme before going on to invent one of the world’s bestselling toys – the Super Soaker water gun.

Professor Steve Eichhorn, who’s been involved in developing the STEM classroom materials with PhD student Selim Tudgey, said: “It is really important that pupils of African heritage see someone in their lessons they can relate to and someone who has achieved something. Lonnie Johnson provides that in a fun way. I’m very inspired by the project and it’s been great working with CARGO on something that will make a real difference.”

Through CARGO Classroom, Lawrence and Chaz hope to counter the skewed versions of Black history, which they see as being responsible for reproducing inequalities in society.

The University has been working closely with CARGO for a number of years. Together they’ve created the Universal City interactive map, aimed at connecting new students and staff with the diversity of the city of Bristol.