History KS2: Elsie Owusu - Becoming an architect in Britain

In this short film 11-year-old Kendra meets Elsie Owusu, who moved from Ghana to the UK as a child and became an architect.

Elsie tells Kendra, who is Ghanaian, how she dealt with the challenges of working in a white, male-dominated profession.

The film introduces the idea of challenging stereotypes in the workplace and moving towards a more diverse representation of modern Britain.

This short film is from the BBC Teach series, Black British Stories.

Teacher Notes

Before watching the film

You may want to discuss the British Empire and how the majority of its African colonies gained independence after World War Two.

This is also a good opportunity to discuss the colour bar and how it must have felt growing up in Ghana with segregation dividing white British and black African people. There was also a great deal of racial discrimination taking place across the rest of the world during this time, including in America and the UK.

You may want to start exploring the workplace and gender stereotypes that are present in certain professions.

Please note, Elsie’s story of moving to the UK as a child, and feeling unwelcome, may be upsetting for pupils who have experienced discrimination as a result of their race or religion.

Questions to consider

Depending on the focus of your lesson, you may wish to pause this short film at certain points to check for understanding, asking questions such as:

  • How do you think Elsie’s experience of growing up in Ghana might have been different from other people’s?
  • Why do you think people wanted to celebrate independence from the British Empire?
  • How do you think Elsie felt about moving from Ghana to Britain at the age of nine?
  • What do you think was different about living in Ghana and England?
  • How did Elsie’s mother and father’s experiences differ when living in London?
  • Why do you think Elsie said she did not feel welcome in the UK?
  • How can designing buildings make the world a better place?
  • Why do you think it might be a challenge being one of the only black women working in a company?
  • Why do you think it is important to have more women, black people or people from diverse backgrounds in charge in the workplace?

Activities to further explore learning

  • Diverse communities Elsie stated that even though the UK was thought to be the “mother country” of Ghana, they did not feel that ‘mother’ was welcoming them when they arrived in 1962. Challenge the pupils to consider what they could do to make someone who was new to the school and wider community feel welcome. Pupils could write a welcome letter to any new pupils arriving at their school.

  • Designing for diversity Elsie has said that the buildings in Britain are often not representative of the diverse communities they serve. Challenge the pupils to look at the different buildings in their communities. Do they represent the different cultures and needs of their communities? Pupils could design a new building for the community (possibly a school or library), which incorporates some of the various cultures and languages that need to be represented in their communities. Pupils should also be mindful of how people with disabilities use and access buildings.

  • Challenging stereotypes Show pupils a number of pictures of different people and a number of jobs (e.g. nurse, bus driver, fire fighter, child minder, engineer, cleaner, astronaut, etc.). Ask pupils to match the job to the person and say why they think that they are a match. Pupils can then openly discuss why they think certain jobs have stereotypes attached to them. How do they think it feels being in that job and not fitting that stereotype? If possible, invite some people in who are challenging these stereotypes to be interviewed by the pupils. Please note, this activity should be approached with careful planning and sensitivity. Pupils may be more inclined to talk about stereotypes that they have witnessed or experienced in their communities (perhaps they may have heard a family member talking about something). Pupils may also talk about their own lived experiences so support should be offered and systems in place for these disclosures. Individuals in the class should not feel any expectation to discuss their own family circumstances, although they may choose to.

Key Vocabulary

  • Activist - Someone who does something to make a change, or stop a change, in society.
  • Colony - An area of land that is occupied and in control by settlers from another country.
  • Colour bar - A system that does not allow black or Asian people to do the same things as white people.
  • Community - A group of people living in a particular area or working together for a particular aim or goal.
  • Culture - A pattern of behaviour shared by a society, or group of people.
  • Decolonisation - Typically refers to the withdrawal of political, military and governmental rule of a colonised land by its invaders. In the case of the British Empire, this is the return of colonised lands to native inhabitants. As Elsie states in the film, Ghana became fully independent in 1957.
  • Diplomat - An official of a country, representing that country abroad. In the film Elsie says that her father was a diplomat working in London.
  • Discrimination - The unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people.
  • Diversity - Differences in racial and ethnic, socioeconomic, geographic, and academic backgrounds.
  • Empire - Lands or regions that are controlled by one ruler or government.
  • Equality - When people are treated the same, regardless of what they look like or where they come from.
  • Immigrant - A person who comes to a country to take up permanent residence.
  • Intersectionality - Used to describe how multiple forms of disadvantage or inequality (e.g. a person’s race, gender or class), overlap with one another. In the film Elsie talks about her profession (architecture) being dominated by white men. So for her, being black and a women were two disadvantages that overlapped.
  • Motherland - For people living in colonies of the British Empire, Britain was often referred to as the Motherland or Mother Country. In the film, Elsie says that the UK always felt like home because she was told that the UK was the Mother Country and that this gave the impression that she would be welcomed.
  • Prejudice - A preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.
  • Racism - The belief that people of different races or ethnic groups have different value in society, and using this against them.

Curriculum Notes

This short film is suitable for teaching KS2 / 2nd level pupils and links to various areas of the curriculum including history (black history) and personal, social and relationships education (diversity and stereotypes in the workplace)

Diversity in the workplace
The film raises issues of current diversity in the workplace. Elsie works in a white, male-dominated profession and has to ‘fight’ for her place as a black woman.

Prejudice and discrimination
The film raises questions about how we treat people who have characteristics that are different from us with respect. Elsie remembers a time where the colour bar was used to separate black and white people and, even though this is no longer the case, Elsie has still had many experiences of being treated differently because of the colour of her skin and her gender.

Elsie challenges us to dream big and to use our talents and passions to make a difference in the future.

More from Black British Stories

Mac Williams - Working in the coal mining industry
Alison Bennison - Working as a NHS nurse
Christina Shingler - Becoming an author of children's literature
David Mwanaka - Becoming a farmer in Britain
Dennis Morris - Becoming a photographer
Eunice Olumide - Breaking into the fashion business
Magid Magid - Becoming the youngest ever Lord Mayor of Sheffield
Vernon Samuels - The Bristol Bus Boycott of 1963
Yesha Townsend - A Bermudian poet in London