'The only time you hear the word geography is in a quiz question'

26th August 2005 at 01:00
Since Ian Selmes began teaching geography nearly 30 years ago, the subject has changed radically. In the 1970s everybody knew it was about oxbow lakes and artesian wells - now it seems shrouded in confusion.

In its attempt to become more relevant, the subject has lost its meaning, he believes. "At one time, everyone would have recognised what geography was, in terms of the traditional capes and bays, the regional and physical geography," said Dr Selmes. "It still does contain those things, but it has brought in much more: social geography, political geography, environmental geography. People are not sure what it is anymore."

Dr Selmes, who teaches at Oakham school, Rutland, said: "It is to do with global warming, industrial change, globalisation. But none of these things is perceived as geography.

"There is a huge amount in the news which is geography, but it is not labelled as such. There are people in the media who are, in practice, geographers, but you don't hear them described as that. The only time you hear the word geography is in a quiz question."

He said geography has suffered from a perception that it was less academic than other subjects, even though the range of skills it tests, from mathematics to interpreting photographs, makes its graduates highly desirable to employers.

His solution to halting the decline in take-up at school is to overhaul geography teaching. But it does not end there.

He said: "The only real way forward is if society comes to understand what a geographical perspective is. It is not just rivers and environment, it is about understanding the relationship between the human and physical world.

"If people come to understand that it is a way of looking at the world, and the term gains a greater currency, that is the only real way for geography to revive.

"It is not just a matter for schools; it is society."

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