Geography is one of the most critical subjects in helping us to understand the complexities of the modern world and to construct solutions that benefit modern society and our environment. It has a valuable role to play in developing responsible citizens especially in relation to sustainable development education and global citizenship. Geographical topics like population, nationality, place, migration, landscapes, sustainability, climate change, energy, flooding, globalisation, poverty, inequality, health, transport, and access to diminishing resources like water, oil and food, should be a fundamental part of any child’s education.
However, there are very real concerns about Geography within Scottish schools, especially where it is being taught by non-specialist teachers, where it is not seen as one of the core subjects, and, in particular, where it is suffering from the reduction in the number of subjects a student can study within the upper stages of secondary schools.
In this briefing paper, the leading educational charity for Geography, the Royal Scottish Geographical Society (RSGS), and its sister teachers’ organisation, the Scottish Association of Geography Teachers (SAGT), demonstrate the relevance of Geography for meeting the Scottish Government’s educational targets.
Geography can play a key role in delivering current Scottish Government priorities:
- developing responsible and global citizenship
- closing the attainment gap and delivering equity
- promoting and supporting inter-disciplinary learning
- delivering excellence and introducing pupils to other sciences
- getting pupils outdoors and understanding the local environment.
Reading, writing and arithmetic are ‘pure’ skills, but through Geography we learn how to stitch them together and how to make them relevant to everyday life. We have places and people to read about. We have journeys and issues to write about. We have subjects to do sums about, from populations to economies. And, we can learn responsible citizenship, social responsibility, the rule of consequences, and the background to some of the most defining issues of this century.
Geography is ideal for developing these skills with up-to-date, relevant and interesting practical examples. It is unique in its ability to integrate learning across disciplines, bridging the gap between science, humanities and arts, and teaching us the art of joined-up thinking like no other subject can. You cannot fully understand the way the world works if you don’t understand how people interact with it. You cannot fully consider human activities and policies if you do not also take account of the finite nature of resources, and, as recent events have shown, the Earth’s own complex and powerful natural processes. These are basic tenets of global citizenship.
We aim to persuade others that Geography is of value in its own right. It is also valuable because of the key roles it plays in science and big data, in increasing scientific literacy and acting as a bridge to the ‘pure’ sciences, and in supporting the inter-disciplinary and collaborative model encouraged by Curriculum for Excellence (CfE). Geography can provide relevant, dynamic contexts so that learning is clearly seen to be purposeful and of genuine worth, helping to deliver excellence and equity, and to retain and build children’s interest.
But this relies on good quality specialist teachers, the increased integration of fieldwork into teaching, and a wider recognition of the value of the subject in the policy arena. If we want to deliver equity in education, we need to ensure that the number of subjects and the number of opportunities to study are more consistent across Scotland. And, if we want to ensure we have a healthier, safer, fairer and wealthier Scotland, and a greener and smarter Scotland, when we are faced with many critical global and national issues, we should be doing all we can to promote and support geographical sciences in all their various guises.
There are several central tenets which we strongly support.
- Every individual benefits from a good base of geographical education.
- Society benefits from responsible citizens who have good geographical and scientific literacy.
- Getting outdoors and experiential learning are key to embedding understanding.
- Good global citizenship, understanding of health and well-being, and sustainable development education are critical skills for the future workforce and a healthy nation.
- Everyone should have an equal opportunity to benefit from excellent teaching.
- Inter-disciplinary learning is a good thing, and Geography is uniquely well placed to play a central role in this, encouraging expert teachers to develop co-operative teaching models.
Our Manifesto for Geography in Scottish Education outlines how Geography can fully support key Government priorities for education, addressing many of the most significant aspects of learning and experiences and outcomes which could be met through an increased focus on geographical teaching. It is a list of actions and changes that could help secure the role of Geography in education, and allow geographical sciences to deliver the greatest benefit to literacy, numeracy, sustainable development education, global citizenship, scientific understanding and other inter-disciplinary outcomes, contributing to educational equity and excellence.
RSGS and SAGT wholly support the need to maintain and raise attainment in Scottish schools; RSGS for more than 130 years, and SAGT for more than 40 years, have worked to increase general geographical awareness and to encourage individuals to fulfil their educational potential.
RSGS is committed to supporting the Manifesto in any way possible. We will seek to:
- develop and build networks of contacts between schools, universities, educational bodies, practitioners and policy-setters, to facilitate discussion, inform policy, collate research, gauge opinion, increase collaboration, and develop influence in appropriate policy arenas.
- encourage and promote relevant skills for work inherent within the subject, and ensure it reflects changing needs.
- help in closing the attainment gap through increasing the reach and inspiration for the subject.
- help bridge the gap between schools, further study and the workplace.
- maximise opportunities to promote, integrate and grow Geography in all its forms.
- help improve or influence what is not working as well, such as current assessment requirements.
- ensure our subject and our schools are better resourced to support teachers and pupils.
- collect and develop evidence on the performance of Geography in schools and further education.
- ensure Geography remains current and valued.
- ensure key influencing and advisory committees or forums which pertain to the development of geographical education (eg, the QST) have suitable representation from RSGS and/or SAGT.
Manifesto for Geography in Scottish Education
How Geography Can Fully Support Key Government Priorities for Education
- Promote curriculum models in secondary schools that offer greater breadth and choice, in line with the principles of CfE, to ensure Geography is more available for study at National 4/5 levels, and that Geography is available in more than one option choice
- Promote more teaching of Geography by subject-specialist teachers in Broad General Education, and limit BGE to S1-S2 only or strengthen the specialisms within S3.
- Ensure Geography is a core element of the curriculum, taught as a discrete, identifiable subject, whilst valued for its ability to connect and contribute to developing responsible citizens.
- Ensure there is a realistic volume of assessment and associated workload for pupils and teachers.
- Increase funding for resources/ classroom materials to support ongoing curriculum change.
- Ensure assessment and structure of exams is subject-appropriate and specific to the requirements of Geography as advised by specialist teachers and consistently understood.
- Promote an element of compulsory fieldwork and outdoor learning, integrated into courses.
- Retain a focus on knowledge and application of skills in context.
- Ensure Geography courses retain the full breadth and balance of suitable physical and human content and the connections between the two components.
- Ensure the content of Higher and Advanced Higher Geography prepares students for university courses and facilitates natural progression between school and FE.
- Build bridges between all sectors of educational delivery to see more co-ordination and better articulation between primary, secondary, examined and university level Geography.
- Enhance links between Geography, business and industry to support the delivery of Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce.
- Provide CPD opportunities for classroom teachers on understanding change, standards and guidance, to ensure a greater understanding of how the principles of CfE can be delivered in practice, and to increase consistency in its implementation.
- Provide CPD opportunities which exemplify and reinforce Geography’s ability to contribute to inter-disciplinary learning and which keep up to date with current issues, knowledge and skills.
- Provide opportunities in Initial Teacher Education programmes for primary teachers to develop a specialism in the teaching of Geography.
- Introduce an Earth Sciences qualification at Higher, to replace Geology.