Geography can place Europe in the syllabus

2nd February 1996 at 00:00
Teachers on both sides of the border are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of developing a "European dimension". In the national curriculum for England and Wales and the various Scottish syllabuses this exhortation towards Europeanism is expressed in both the visible and the hidden curriculum.

One way of approaching this could be through cross-curricular studies involving geography and modern languages departments and other subjects. Such an approach was discussed at a conference in London in November organised jointly by the Geographical Association's International Committee, the Association for Language Learning and the Central Bureau for Educational Visits and Exchanges.

In most secondary schools, at least in Scotland, there is little in place that could be described as anything greater than token Europeanism. Primary pupils are far more likely to have experienced some kind of integrated approach to things European through environmental studies topics. Yet there are many opportunities for the creation of integrated geography and language courses where pupils can be introduced to a closer understanding of "Europe", however one defines that key word.

Penny Krucker, European development officer for Gloucestershire education authority, suggested to the conference that one solution might be for geographers to learn more French or German while language teachers learnt more geography. This sentiment is certainly interesting and its significance was endorsed by Judith Hemery of the Central Bureau.

While it is easier for language teachers and students to benefit from exchange programmes, geographers could become involved provided they had a basic competence in the language of a country in which they wished to carry out personal research in the field. Guidance towards successful navigation through a minefield of acronyms like Socrates and Comenius is available from the Central Bureau in both London and Edinburgh.

Why should geographers not work with linguists in investigating details of French, German, Italian or Spanish localities? The geographers would gain much more information if the local language was used in interviews and written descriptions, while language students would expand their language needs in a practical and enjoyable way. Foreign exchanges and field studies are, of course, not available to everyone but that should be no barrier to students of the 1990s. Workshop leaders at the conference worked through approaches such as using maps from other countries in geography classes and using geographical or historical printed resources in relevant European languages with language students as well as the normal literary sources. Both claimed success in such variations from the norm.

A project called Science across Europe (sponsored by BP and the Association for Science Education) was demonstrated. This involves pupils undertaking a series of joint scientific studies into matters such as water pollution and exchanging information on worksheets that use a common format. Teachers of both sciences and languages were involved and schools using the materials found that the results included better language learning, better science learning and a broadening of scientific investigations from the United Kingdom alone to a selection of other locations.

This approach, it was agreed, is capable of extension into geography: there must be scope here for the UK associations of geography teachers to combine with European colleagues in the inter-European Eurogeo group of geography teachers' associations.

Beyond purely geographical and linguistic studies, such developments also take the student into areas of international understanding and towards the elimination of stereotypes. Penny Krucker's aim to "break down stereotypes" can be achieved, she said, by demonstrating in our geography and language classrooms that there is commonality between European countries.

Alastair Robinson is head of geography at the Jordanhill campus of Strathclyde University.

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