Choosing the right place for geography

11th May 2007 at 01:00
Rita Gardner Is Director Of The Royal Geographical Society And A Geography Adviser To The Department For Education And Skills

Our world is shrinking - and so are the opportunities for some students at key stage 4. Just when students are in greatest need of being educated about some big issues facing us all - from climate change to migration; and from globalisation to Third World development - there are calls for a skills-led, rather than knowledge-led curriculum among some members of the education establishment.

Recognising that many skills cannot be disassociated from understanding a body of knowledge is now more important than ever. Geography, as a key subject that offers real opportunities to be tailored to local circumstances, to build on personal observations and experiences, and inform students' understanding of these pressing global issues, can and must play a central role in enabling students to understand their place in a rapidly changing world.

From 2004, all schools have had to offer students the opportunity, whether onsite or not, of taking at least one GCSE in the humanities. I wonder how many students - and parents - at the 85 schools where no one took GCSE geography last year realise that such an entitlement exists, and why students have not been encouraged more strongly to continue studying the subject? It may be difficult for some schools to offer a full range of GCSE choices, but offering substantial choice should be encouraged, to widen the opportunities for every child to fulfil their potential.

Ideas of consortia whereby pupils study some subjects in other neighbouring schools sound fine in principle, but it may simply not be a practical way to deliver a broader curriculum, especially in rural areas. So how can we better the lot of geography in secondaries? With our partners at the Geographical Association, the Royal Geographical Society is leading on the government-backed Action Plan for Geography. The plan responds to concerns about KS4, including up-to-date subject knowledge, curriculum-making and developing specialist ICT skills. Just one example producing encouraging results is the society's work in getting young "geography ambassadors" - university students and those starting out in their careers - to engage Year 9 pupils and show them how enjoyable and relevant GCSE geography can be.

We will always help schools to provide a range of choices. If pupils are to make a positive contribution to society, they need an understanding of it.

Geography, alongside other subjects, has a vital role to play. Pupils need their subject-based options to be as wide as possible, not narrowed.

* www.rgs.orgambassadors

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