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Students at the centre of the world

GLOBAL FUTURES, Packs A and B. Heinemann 16-19 Geography. Bob Digby (editor), Adrian Nortorn, Roger Robinson, Andy Owen, Graham Yates. Heinemann. Pounds 95 each.

These substantial loose-leaf files, each containing nearly 400 photocopiable A4 sheets, are designed to support the Global Futures module in the popular London Syllabus B A-level programme. This module offers six thematic study options: natural hazards; the geography of health; development issues; recreation and tourism; environmental politics; and the geography of living standards. The authors emphasise that this module is student-centred, not only in terms of selection of a study option, but also in organisation of work and preparation for an (externally set) essay.

The writing team nails its colours to the mast early on; for this module, teachers are "expected to become tutors who aid the process of learning, rather than to be subject 'experts' on whom students rely for their information". Interestingly, this rationale for independent study is reinforced by an acknowledgement of the ways in which "cutbacks and reductions in contact time" are strengthening the case for open learning. Independent research skills, we are assured, are as important as course content and concepts. The format adopted supports this perspective, with a 56-page introduction covering investigative techniques and essay skills.

Each theme (three per file) is covered in more than 100 sheets. About half of these are information resources - data, maps, diagrams, cuttings, cartoons. Colour and pictorial material have presumably been ruled out on grounds of photocopiability as well as cost. The other sheets are categorised as enquiry (setting up investigations), theory (identifying key ideas), and conclusions. The layout of each theme is admirably clear, with 10 sub-topics, each illustrating a significant generalisation.

The materials presented here illustrate the undoubted strengths of the 16-19 syllabus as a dynamic and relevant course of study, extending the scope of pre-university geography to include spatial patterns generated by, for instance, diseases, voting behaviour, access to amenities. Some ammunition is also provided for the more sceptical observer. Students are told that they "need to know what an essay is and how to write one" - surely they might have acquired an inkling in their previous five years of secondary education?

Some of the all-important "generalisations" - the building blocks of the course - come across as trite. At the end of the enquiry, we are told, students should have realised that "health and welfare indicators are linked closely with economic standards of living" - a correlation many may have suspected before embarking on the course.

These files would constitute a major investment; they are closely geared to one specific syllabus. They would undoubtedly sustain a large and "mixed ability" A-level group through the Futures module - making up one-sixth of the course - permitting a genuine six-way choice. And since much of the subject matter appears in other post-16 courses, the flexible format should ensure their deployment in other A-level geography programmes and beyond.

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