Case for optimism

1st December 2000 at 00:00
ISSUES IN GEOGRAPHY tEACHING. Edited by Chris Fisher and Tony Binns. Routledge Falmer. pound;16.99.

As Rex Walford writes in this excellent collection of essays: "At the turn of the century, things can go either way for geography." The various contributors, all well-informed, identify what they believe to be the key issues that face teachers of geography from early years to initial teacher training and there is plenty in this volume to provide cause for optimism about the subject's well-being.

Margaret Roberts, for example, illustrates from her own programme at Sheffield how teacher training is made more rigorous when informed by research evidence.

David Leat argues for metacognitive approaches to teaching and learning the higher order concepts of geography and, with David Kinninment, for classroom debriefing strategies that will promote cognitive acceleration.

Roger Carter's timely piece on education for global citizenship is welcome, as are those by Stephen Scoffham on environmental education and the curricular ambivalence we experience in relation to Europe.

From the primary chapters, Kathy Alcock is convincing in demonstrating that geography makes an important contribution to a rich, diverse and lively curriculum for young children.

The selection of themes and writers shows some skill on the part of the editors. David Waugh's personal account of writing textbooks is beautifully juxtaposed with David Lambert's observations on schoolbooks and provides two contrasting views of the pedagogy of the double-page spread. Serious research and reflection on how resources are deployed in geography classrooms is long overdue.

It is disappointin that so little attention is paid in the book to maps. The index gives only two references (one on the very last page) and none at all to atlases. The significance of geographic information systems (GIS) as an issue for the future of geography in schools is also seriously underplayed. GIS is probably the greatest contribution made by geographers to economy and society since the Age of Discovery and yet receives only passing mention.

There is no reference either to that other key element of geography in the real world: global positioning systems (GPS). If geographers do not seize this new technology and demonstrate its relevance to problem solving and decision making in industry, commerce and utilities, then it will be taken up instead by IT, science or business studies.

It is said that a more radical revision of the national curriculum is planned for 2005. What will the status of geography be by then? Eleanor Rawling suggests an immediate action plan. This includes: a relaunch of the subject at key stages 1-3 (where it has been most challenged by recent preoccupations with literacy and numeracy); a shift in its public image; a halt to the decline at GCSE; and incorporation of newer concerns such as thinking skills, citizenship and education for sustainable development.

Crucially, liaison and co-operation across all the levels and sectors of education are called for in order to secure geography's long-term presence. Clearly, there is much work to be done by geography educators but the quality of this collection will make it a valuable contribution to the debate.

Patrick Wiegand is reader in geography education at the University of Leeds

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