Ethnocentric Curriculum In Education: Definition & Examples

Ethnocentric curriculum is a sociological concept that describes a system of education reflecting the culture of one ethnic group, usually the dominant culture in a society. This is a prime example of institutional racism.

For example, education within the United Kingdom has traditionally been centered on a dominant White Eurocentric curriculum, and has discounted the contributions of various ethnic minorities.

Those who subscribe to this view claim that, as a result, ethnic and racial inequality remains a pressing issue afflicting particularly the subject discipline of history, as the Uk national curriculum has traditionally ignored black and Asian history.

How Are British Schools Ethnocentric?

Those who accuse British schools of being ethnocentric may furnish the following examples:

  • Stephan Ball (1993) argues that the curriculum seeks to reposition “the UK in some mythical golden age of empire” with much harm to multiculturalism and pluralism.

  • Ball (1993) further contends that judgements on aesthetics such as music is characterized by a “distrust of experience and relevance,” and a “Eurocentric, cultural racism.”

  • Barry Troyna and Jenny Williams (1986) have alleged that the British system is institutionally racist, and they denounce the predominance of European languages such as Spanish and French, over Asian languages, such as Hindi and Chinese.

  • Kalwant Bhopal and Martin Myers (2009) have conducted research on Gypsy, Roma and Traveler(GRT) children, and these studies indicate that GRT students do not view the curriculum as reflecting their interests, and GRT parents hold that their history is inadequately represented.

  • Grievances have also been raised that school uniform codes may contradict the cultural norms of certain minorities, and that the timing of vacations coincides with Christian celebrations rather than those of other religious traditions.

The complaints above, however, have not elicited passive acknowledgment.

The famed historian and former Chairman of the National Curriculum Council, Dr. Nicholas Tate (1995), has pointed out that “all children in England” must be introduced to “the English literary heritage,” and “to the study of Christianity and to the classical world as the basis of European civilization” which constitute “our common culture and our national identity.”

Moreover, philosophers such as Roger Scruton (1991) and Anthony O’Hear (1991) have noted that “the classical tradition” is the “highest achievement of European culture,”.

Stewart Deuchar (1989) has contended that “our civilization” is threatened “by cultures with different attitudes and values.”

It may also be argued that Britain’s geographical propinquity, and closer historical ties to France and Spain justify the study of French and Spanish over Asian languages.

Finally, John Finnis (2008) has rigorously argued that the requirement of assimilation and the exclusion of cultures with norms hostile to the common good, do not violate natural justice.

Who Is Supposedly Disadvantaged By The Ethnocentric curriculum?

The following groups may be cited by some sociologists as the victims of the alleged ethnocentric curriculum:

  • Black African and Caribbean students

  • Muslim students from an Asian background

  • Chinese students

  • Gypsy, Roma and Traveler children


Moreover, the following have been presented, by some multiculturalist sociologists, as adverse consequences of the so-called ethnocentric curriculum:

  • Ball (1993) claims that an ‘uncompromising and traditionalist’ vision of pedagogy that propagates a ‘regressive “Little Englandism”’ pervades the curriculum. It has been argued that this approach which heavily focuses on middle-class white British culture excludes ethnic minorities as well as girls.

  • The Swann Committee of Enquiry (1985) argued that racism exerts a “pervasive influence on institutional policies and practices,” and that it also manifests itself in “individual attitudes and behavior.”

  • The temporary exclusion rate for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children is 5 times higher than that for White children and nearly 22 times the rate for Indian children.

  • Bernard Coard (1971) has contended that Britain’s alleged ethnocentric curriculum and its concomitant readings which students are required to use, are responsible for engendering a poor self-image among Black children, and thereby lowering their performance.

    History lessons on how the British civilized the denizens of the former colonies has been cited as a source of the purported baneful influence upon the students’ self-esteem. These have been adduced to explain the disproportionate presence of Blacks in Educationally Subnormal(ESN) schools.

Despite the above facts, the arguments of the sociologists denouncing the British system as institutionally racist or ethnocentric remain manifestly vulnerable to manifold objections.

Ball’s claims concerning “Little Englandism” and the exclusion of minority cultures are predicated upon the philosophically dubious assumption that all cultures are of equal worth.

The former Head of the Commission for Racial Equality, Sir Trevor Philips, has condemned multiculturalism, and has instead extolled an assertion of “a core of Britishness” (Baldwin & Rozenberg, 2004).

Philips (2016) has further pointed out that a promotion of multiculturalism can cause Britain to “sleepwalk to a catastrophe that will (…) suppress freedom of expression, reverse hard-won civil liberties, and undermine (…) liberal democracy.”

Furthermore, in response to the accusation that institutional policies imposing punishments (for example, for having braided hair or kissing teeth) are racist, Katherine Birbalsingh has noted that “kissing teeth is rude” and that “Black people know that it is rude” (Busby, 2020).

She has further pointed out that “all children, whatever race, are able to behave themselves,” and that “the idea of permitting black children to be rude is to lower your standards for those black children.”

Finally, Coard’s account fails to explain the extraordinarily high academic performance of South Asian, particularly Indian, students, which exceeds that of not just Blacks but also Whites significantly (Gibson & Bhachu, 1988).

If there’s an actual causal relationship between history lessons on British colonization and low student performance, Indian children whose ancestors dwelt in the British Raj, ought to have a miserably low self-esteem, and be phenomenal failures in the classroom.


Ball, S. J. (1993). Education, majorism and ‘the curriculum of the dead’. Curriculum Studies, 1 (2), 195-214.

Baldwin, Tom; Rozenberg, Gabriel (3 April 2004). “Britain “must scrap multiculturalism”. The Times. ISSN 0140-0460

Bhopal, K. (2011). ‘This is a school, it”s not a site’: Teachers” attitudes towards Gypsy and Traveller pupils in schools in England, UK. British Educational Research Journal, 3 7(3), 465-483.

Busby, Eleanor. (12 January, 2020) “Schools unfairly punish black students for hairstyles and for ‘kissing teeth’ amid racial bias, teachers say”. The Independent.

Coard, B. (1971). Making black children subnormal in Britain. Integrated Education: Race and Schools, 9 (5), 49-52.

Coughlan, Sean (9 June 2018). “Parents bottle it on phones, “strictest” head teacher says”. BBC News.

Deuchar, S. (1997). Children playing with balloons: the”New History” in British schools. Contemporary Review, 270 (1575), 202-206.

Deucher, D. (1989) The New History: a critique. York: Campaign for Real Education.

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Finnis, J. (2008). Universality, Personal and Social Identity, and Law.

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Jenkins, K. & Brickley, P. (1990). History and the National Curriculum. Teaching History, 62, pp. 10-16.

Morgan, P. (1986). Keeping the legends alive, in T. Curtis (Ed.) Wales: the imagined nation. Cardiff: Poetry Wales Press.

Myers, M., & Bhopal, K. (2009). Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children in schools: understandings of community and safety. British Journal of Educational Studies, 57 (4), 417-434.

O”Hear, A. (1991) Out of sync with Bach, The Times Educational Supplement, 22 February

Report of the Committee of Enquiry into the Education of Children of Ethnic Minority Groups (1985) (Chairman, Lord Swann), Education For All, Cmnd 945

Scruton, R. (10 February 1991). Rock around the classroom, Sunday Telegraph.

Tate, N. (1994). Off the fence on common culture, The Times Educational Supplement.

Tate, N. (13 July 1995). Speech to the Shropshire Secondary Headteachers Annual Conference.

Troyna, B., & Williams, J. (1986). Racism, education and the state: The racialisation of educational policy. Capital & Class, 10 (2), 222-224.