Geography explains the past, illuminates the present, and prepares us for the future. What could be more important than that?
Michael Palin, President of the Royal Geographical Society, 2009-2012.
Geography is the study of places - their biophysical and human characteristics, their interconnections and interdependencies, and their variation across space. It is the link between the physical and the human that is the unique strength of geography and which helps students to make sense of the world around them. From a very early age young people have a curiosity about the world, a wonderful geographical imagination and an appreciation of the world's diversity.
In geography, students undertake class research, practical activities and field investigations, and take local action. This helps them develop a holistic view of people and the environments that make up their world. It also encourages students to make and justify value judgements about people and environmental issues based on analysis of information and data.
There has never been a more exciting time to study Geography - it is vital to the education of every young Australian in the 21st century.
Geography: A study of places
People are attracted to the study of geography for a range of reasons … For many, the initial fascination is aroused through an interest in places, their characteristics and variety. That appeal may be stimulated by direct experience of one or more places, by the study of documentary evidence such as maps or, increasingly, by exposure to places through visual media. Whatever the origin of the curiosity, however, the goal becomes the same: to appreciate the diversity which characterises the earth's surface, and to understand its origins.
Johnston, 1996, pp. 59-76.
It is the study of places - their environments, populations, economies and communities - and how and why these places are changing that arouse curiosity in students. Through inquiry, students are able to explore places by asking questions such as:
- What are the geographical characteristics of this place?
- Is this place used sustainably?
- Are the people in this place living sustainably?
- What is the relationship of this place with other places in the area, region or country?
- What are the possible, probable and preferred futures of this place?
The rich diversity of places and issues enables students to explore their world in geography in a unique way.
A study of interconnections
Geographers question why things are the way they are. Because geography combines both physical and human studies, it enables students to make sense of complex issues such as climate change, global warming, food production, drought, desertification, land degradation, water resources, human wellbeing, ageing populations, urban growth, ethnic conflicts, the reasons for migration and refugees, natural disasters, the spread of disease, and globalisation.
By developing deep knowledge and understanding of the basic biophysical and human processes that shape the earth's places, and how they interact with each other, students are well positioned to make sense of a highly connected world. Such studies also allow students to understand the connections between countries, cultures, cities and regions, and between regions within countries.
So many of the issues facing the world are about geography, and there will always be a need for geographers of the future to help understand and solve them.
Ask your students to choose one geographical issue from the Wordle. Direct students to work in pairs and access the website bubbl.us. Ask them to brainstorm all the interconnections between the physical and human world that have contributed to the issue they have selected.
Nurturing active and informed global citizens
Geography equips young people with the knowledge, skills and values to make informed decisions on local, state and national issues as future citizens. By promoting positive values, geography can assist students to take responsibility for their actions and to see themselves as global citizens who can contribute to a more peaceful, just and sustainable world.
From a local perspective, geography students can present the results of a field investigation or study to a local council or government authority, taking on a local citizenship role. From a global perspective, even the youngest geography students have the capacity to move beyond their personal experience and gain knowledge and understandings of issues in distant places and situations.
By developing empathy for other people and places, geography students are able to participate in shaping a better, shared future for the world. They are able to develop a sense of self and appreciation of cultural diversity, support social justice, human rights and building peace, and undertake actions for a sustainable future in different times and places.
Geography provides students with opportunities to clarify their own values and attitudes to the stewardship of the earth and living sustainably. It supports active citizenship, social justice, intercultural understanding and geographical empathy.
The following newspaper articles provide some interesting views expressed by Tim Costello, head of World Vision. These articles will allow you to explore how geography equips young people for the future:
Let geography teach next generation. Mr Costello argues that geography should be given the same prominence as history in the new national curriculum to help students think critically about a breadth of environmental and social issues.
Why geography must have its place. The point is made that there is a growing 'need for a critical, globally-aware generation with a passion to care for the most disadvantaged and vulnerable '… and that geography is a subject that encourages and supports students to critically look at these 'big issues'.
Preparing young adults for many careers
Geography is a diverse discipline that can lead to many career options. In addition to knowing about our planet and its people, those studying geography learn to:
- think critically
- research (in the field and in the classroom)
- collect data
- analyse and make decisions on issues
- communicate their thoughts through writing and other means of communication.
Thus, they will have skills that are valued in all careers and make them highly employable, enabling them to work in a wide variety of fields across both government and non-government sectors. The Australian government poster Do you enjoy or are you good at geography? Provides information about careers in geography. Type in 'Geography bullseye careers poster' in the search box, and you can download a PDF of the A4 poster.
Geography provides a rich and varied context for the use of spatial technologies to enhance learning. Students are provided with many opportunities to use spatial technologies such as GPS (Global Positioning System) in the field to identify a location, Google Earth or Google Maps and Nearmap to investigate places on a local to global scale and manipulate data and information, and GIS (Geographic Information System) to help analyse and synthesise data. These skills are highly sought after in many careers.
Geography is a well-rounded discipline that provides students with ample career opportunities, and knowledge about our rapidly changing world and how they can create solutions to future challenges.
About the illustrations
Illustration 1: Geography and careers focuses on the knowledge and skills that geographers bring to various careers, and the links between the study of geography and future employment opportunities. A range of resources is provided, including activities that link geography and careers and questions for teachers to discus and reflect on.
Illustration 2: Teaching geography for a better world makes links between the Australian Curriculum: Geography and teaching geography for a better world. A range of resources is provided including suggested activities to scaffold student's understanding of how geography can support positive change in communities, and questions for discussion and reflection.
Books and articles:
Australian Geography Teachers Association Ltd, Institute of Australian Geographers Inc & The Royal Geographical Society of Queensland Inc. (2009). Towards a national geography curriculum for Australia. Retrieved September 2012, from: http://www.ngc.org.au/report/Towards_a_nat_geog_curric_Final.pdf.
Geography Teachers Association of Victoria. Geography: It's essential, pp. 7-10. Retrieved September 2012, from: http://www.gtav.asn.au/Materials/Geography_Its_essential/Geog_Essential.pdf.
Johnston, R. (1996). 'A place in geography.' In E. Rawling & R. Daugherty (Eds.). Geography into the twenty-first century. Chichester: Wiley, pp. 59–76.
Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). Australian Curriculum: Geography. Retrieved May 2013, from: www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/Geography/Rationale
Brooks, D. (2005). All cultures are not equal. NY Times. Retrieved September 2012, from: http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F60613FB3F5A0C728DDDA10894DD404482.
Palin, M. Cited in Royal Geographical Society. (2007). Annual review 2007. Retrieved from http://www.rgs.org/NR/rdonlyres/98E05CFA-FF4E-4B4A-B573-B4B5066A1812/0/2007AnnualReview.pdf