Ask someone of a certain age about their school Geography and it is perhaps likely that they will remember learning about various glacial moraines, the formation of ox bow lakes and perhaps the exports of various countries. Whilst some of these topics still form part of Geography in the classroom today (my Year 11s should all be able to tell you about oxbow lakes!) some may be surprised at what constitutes Geography today. Surprised but, one would hope, inspired and interested by its very relevance and importance in today’s rapidly changing world.
Geography is an inherently multi-disciplinary subject, spanning both the physical and the social sciences. If we view Geography as the study of the earth and its peoples we have a very big subject! Yet this very scope is in part what lends the subject its value. Major world issues of our time; globalisation, climate change, migration, resource disputes and more are all considered, alongside natural events and disasters such as earthquakes and floods. It helps pupils to understand how and why these things happen and the impacts they have on people and the environment. But it is also about skills and mindsets and pupils learn to understand processes, to collect, analyse and process data, use Geographical Information Systems (mapping software which can add layers of data to physical and human landscapes), to evaluate and make judgements and perhaps most importantly, they learn global awareness, to look outside themselves, encompassing the idea of “thinking like a Geographer!”
Take my Year 9 classes as an example of the importance of this mindset. Our current scheme of work on Globalisation and Development involves pupils considering how we measure and compare countries around the world in terms of development. Yes, they learn about statistics but more than that they learn to question, to empathize and to consider the future and their role in it. Using the excellent Dollar Street website, they have been comparing families from countries around the world, moving beyond the idea of wealth per capita to what does that income actually mean for how those families live around the world and how does this compare with how they themselves live. A simple video of what constitutes a tooth brush at different income levels around the world opened the students’ minds, and for some, simply blew their minds. In this way discussions can be opened, debates held and solutions sought.
Geography addresses so many of the key issues of the day and it is vital that our future citizens are not only aware of these issues but actively engage with them, consider the multi-faceted reasons behind them and can look to develop solutions. Take climate change, flood risk, global migration, hazard preparation and response – all key issues of our time and all addressed in the geography classroom.
As the Geographical Association aptly describes –
Geography is so much more than a school subject or academic discipline. It defines our everyday lives. From the moment we are born, a journey of interactions with people and places begins. All of our day-to-day activities unfold over space, place and time, putting Geography at the heart of human endeavour.
In a world where careers are becoming increasingly specialised, there are those not afraid to seek the big picture, those not afraid to adventure outside their bubble in search of new challenges and a greater understanding of the world.
It is these people that the world needs, if we are to build a more socially and environmentally sensitive, informed and responsible, economically and politically stable society.
They are geographers.
(Geographical Association and Time for Geography March 2018)
So next time you are chatting to your children or grandchildren, ask them what they are studying in Geography at the moment; chances are you will open up an interesting and lively discussion on many of the issues of the day. They may well have a way of viewing the world that is more complex and passionate than you might expect, attempting to both explain the detail but also see the bigger picture. These very discussions in my classroom leave me optimistic for the future. We call it “thinking like a Geographer!”
Mrs Dencher, Head of Geography