Geography in education: exploring a definition
Geography in education: exploring a definition

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Geography in education: exploring a definition

3 A diversity of views

Another vital strategy for survival (or for the justification of survival) is for geography teachers to teach well. Given the wealth and range of lively material available to geography teachers and the richness of life in the real world, it ought to be rare for a geography teacher not to be able to interest or stimulate students in some part of the subject on its own merits

(Walford, 2001, p. 238)

The introduction of the national curriculum in the 1990s alienated many geography teachers and pupils. Teachers lost control of their work and the curriculum, and pupils failed to discover answers through geographical enquiry to pressing questions raised by their everyday lives

(Huckle, 2002, p. 86)

These quotations highlight the diversity of views about the aims and purposes of geography education.

Walford's comment is an example of the view that there is a worthwhile body of knowledge that is intrinsically interesting and which needs to be passed on to the next generation (we might call this geography cultural transmission).

Where school geography is informed by this approach, the focus is likely to be on topics and themes that are considered essential for students to learn about, for example the belief that students must learn about limestone scenery or different settlement types.

Huckle adopts a more radical position, suggesting that geography has lost touch with the lived experiences of young people, and that it needs to provide students with a means of critical literacy.

Where school geography is informed by this approach, an important factor is the social relevance of what is studied. It is likely that issues close to students’ experiences will be emphasised, such as patterns of consumption or local environmental concerns.

Another set of aims is the idea that geography provides students with the functional skills to work in a modern economy (we might call this geography skills).

Where school geography is informed by this approach, it is likely that teachers will focus on developing basic skills of literacy, numeracy and information and communications technology (ICT) through their learning.

Finally, there is a tradition of geography teaching that focuses on the process of developing or nurturing the ‘whole child’ and of encouraging the child to reflect on his or her own feelings and ideas about places and environments (the child-centred approach).

What this suggests is that there is a range of educational ideologies that influence how geographers see their work. Of course, no one individual or department is likely to adhere to one ideology in its pure form, but it is likely that through discussion with teachers about their vision of geography teaching, one of these views may become dominant.

Activity 3

In order to clarify your understanding of these ideas, you should read the chapters by Rawling and Morgan in Teaching Geography in Secondary Schools:

Click 'View document' to open 'School geography in England 1991–2001’ by Rawling, in Teaching Geography in Secondary Schools (Smith, 2002, pp. 21–39).

View document [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

Click 'View document' to open ‘Constructing school geographies’ by Morgan, in Teaching Geography in Secondary Schools (Smith, 2002, pp. 40–59).

Click on the links below to refer to the following web sites:

  • The DfES Standards site

  • Undertake an analysis of the ideologies that seem to inform official versions of school geography. Which of the educational ideologies discussed by Rawling and Morgan seem to be influencing school geography at the present time? Try to give specific examples.

  • Read ‘My interpretation of the geography curriculum in England’.

  • Prepare a briefing paper to share with colleagues at a departmental meeting. The aim is to raise some questions about the aims and purposes of geography education in your school. Does it seem to reflect any of the educational ideologies you have read about?

Click 'View document' below to read My interpretation of the geography curriculum in England

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