Geography is no easy option

13th September 1996 at 01:00
I read with interest the piece by Nicholas Pyke entitled "Historians want to curb growth of GCSE rival". I have no wish to become embroiled in a futile debate over the relative "difficulty" or indeed value of geography and history at GCSE level. Suffice to say that both are important and distinctive subjects which should be a part of every 14 to 16-year-olds' common curriculum. I lament recent developments that once again force students to make a choice between geography, history and other optional subjects.

What I can say about geography is that it is demanding and challenging. Nowadays, the GCSE geography examinations assess knowledge, understanding, skills and values, and a high premium is placed on the ability to apply understanding and knowledge through a range of types of questions. A demanding and vital element of the assessment is the school-based component (up to 20 per cent of the marks) which gives weight to practical work and fieldwork and places great store on individual enquiry.

My own children (one who successfully completed her GCSE geography and history in 1995 and the other who will complete both courses in 1996) on reading The TES article last week were very keen to point out that the two subjects are distinctive and neither more nor less "difficult" than one another. In fact, they have found the school-based geography (in their case fieldwork) component very demanding yet nonetheless worthwhile. The pass rates for both subjects at GCSE are similar, though over the past two years on average 3 per cent more of the candidates gained A-C in history than was the case in geography.

Geography is relevant to young people not only, as is suggested by last week's article, because it contributes towards economic and industrial understanding, but because it helps towards a critical understanding of a rapidly changing world beset by a rangeof social and environmental problems. It is not surprising then that it is a popular subject at GCSE level.

What saddens me is that my subject is still dogged by outdated, ill-informed and negative images. Its relevance, liveliness and intellectual challenge are probably best explained and exemplified by today's generation of geography students and teachers.

ASHLEY KENT President of the Geographical Association The Geographical Association 343 Fulwood Road Sheffield

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