Do something!;Geography;Subject of the week

26th March 1999 at 00:00
Keith Grimwade says geographers must lobby vigorously if they are to prevent their subject becoming marginalised

Geography is having a tough time of it at the moment. Pressures on the curriculum at key stages 1 and 2 have reduced teaching time to little more than 30 minutes a week in many primary schools. At key stage 3 and beyond it is becoming ever more difficult to get time out of the classroom for fieldwork. At GCSE, geography's 8.5 per cent decline in entries last year was the largest for any major subject.

But it is not all bad news - for example, there was nationwide involvement with the Geographical Association's Geography Week last October - but unless we face up to the reality of a subject under threat we will not take the action required in the time left us in the national curriculum review.

The situation is all the more frustrating because few decision-makers, if any, doubt geography's distinctive contribution to the curriculum. Through geography children learn about real people in real places which is vital if we are to foster respect for a diversity of cultures.

At the heart of geography are contemporary issues: climatic change, flood management, urban development, trade, sustainable development. Surely a broad and balanced education must include such topics?

Geography is also about the excitement of the world around us, the enjoyment of the world's great landscapes and the exhilaration of its great cities. These experiences are vital if our children are to grow up caring about the world in which they live.

The Geographical Association, the Royal Geographical SocietyInstitute of British Geographers and others have lobbied on behalf of the subject at the highest levels. However, the challenge is not to make decision-makers care about geography (they do) but to make them care enough to do something about it. How can teachers influence them?

* Become involved with the National Curriculum Review. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has sought views from a range of parties on a first draft of the revised programme of study. At key stages 1 and 2 content has been reduced. A formal consultation is to take place in the summer. All phases of education should have a view on these proposals because they will lay the foundation for school geography and beyond for at least the next five years.

* Write to your MP: decisions about the whole curriculum will ultimately be taken at Westminster. We must demonstrate that failure to give an adequate position to the subject will adversely affect the education provided in our schools. We must also show that it is not necessary to take geography out of the curriculum in order to put in themes such as citizenship and sustainable development education because they are already a part of geography. We must not assume that our MPs know this.

* Make sure that governors and parents are aware of the value of geography's distinctive contribution to the curriculum. They need to know that the geography we teach today is far more relevant than the geography they remember from their school days.

* Make sure geography is a success in your school. If staff enjoy teaching it and pupils enjoy learning it, geography's place in the curriculum will be more secure.

* Above all, do something! Silence will be interpreted as acquiescence. The subject associations need the support of their members. We are expected to support our membership but decisions-makers need to hear it from the grass roots as well if we are to be taken seriously.

Geography will be part of Curriculum 2000. Come what may, creative, relevant and exciting work will continue to be enjoyed by pupils in many schools across the country. And it is an issue not because a group of subject enthusiasts are trying to fight their corner but because the children we teach will be losing out on things which really matter.

The Geographical Association's Position Statement on the subject's contribution to the curriculum will be launched at the Manchester conference on April 7. The statement will also be published in the GA's April journals and on its web site: Grimwade is general adviser for geography in Cambridgeshire, and chairman of the Geographical Association's Education Standing Committee. He writes here in a personal capacity

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