People, places and problems
Andy Schofield looks at the shortcomings of pre-Dearing geography books and welcomes the opportunity for change These six textbooks are targeted at key stage 3 and each is part of a series. Appreciating Australia is written by two Australian geographers and demonstrates how some of the textbooks from that country have now surpassed their UK counterparts. The book is in full colour and succeeds in combining interesting content and issues, as well as excellent maps and photographs, with a challenging approach to values education through geography.
The content of the book is at the leading edge of geographical ideas, particularly when dealing with Aboriginal issues, community values, questions related to sustainable development and the impact of new technologies on the quality of life. Where it compares less favourably with some of its UK equivalents is in the complexity of the text and tasks, which are meant to span four school years. The book has been written to cover the 100 hours of statutory Australian content in the New South Wales geography curriculum, which means that there is a bias towards south-eastern Australia in certain sections.
Geography Now! and the Exploring series are aimed at satisfying a particular classroom need at key stage 3. They are all 50 per cent colour and suffer in varying degrees from having been produced before the Dearing review pruned the content of this key stage.
The Geography Now! series attempts to provide a basic key stage 3 course in 126 pages, which is a very difficult task. Places and Problems aims to be easy to use and certainly succeeds in presenting brief coverage of some basic geographical ideas relating to resources, population, urban areas, industry and recreation. The appearance of Walsall on one-fifth of the pages does however detract from the overall impact. The tasks range from filling in the blanks to the more open-ended, which in places make the work seem uninspiring, such as when pupils are asked to copy and label ten different types of fish (page 10).
The four latest books in the Exploring series (Italy, France, USA, and Brazil) provide case-study material in 32 pages which will satisfy the place requirements of AT2. There is undoubtedly a need for this sort of resource, but does the study of places really involve little more than answering comprehension questions in the way these books suggest?
Italy does at least attempt to set the statutory content in a broader context and France claims to be "a unique cross-curricular resource" on the basis of the inclusion of a smattering of French words throughout the text. This is a very interesting idea, but how useful or appropriate it would prove to be in terms of language development is questionable. The USA book is uninspiring and concentrates almost exclusively on energy and industrial development. Brazil covers familiar ground, including the obligatory case study of unequal life styles in Sao Paulo.
This series illustrates a worrying trend in current geography books, in that the coverage of statutory content not only over-rides the potential interest to pupils, but also a wider perspective on the values being transmitted. There are stereotyped images, in the shape of grape pickers wearing berets on the front cover of France book, as well as stereotyped views of shanty towns, as illegal and problematic (Brazil, page 16).
Superficial coverage is most dangerous when a topic such as coffee production is simply described, without being set in a wider economic context. "Development, Trade and Aid" is accomplished in two pages. It is to be hoped the Dearing review will provide a timely opportunity to look critically at some of the texts produced to support the old geography national curriculum. Perhaps we need to look to Australia for some inspiration.
Andy Schofield is Curriculum Manager at Falmer School, Brighton.