Most geography educators would probably agree that skills are woven into the fabric of geography; skills in the classroom and skills in the field, as well as skills involved generally in geographical inquiry. Often, it is inquiry that is used to organise how skills are articulated in school geography, as seen for example, from National Geographic or in the newly released Australian Curriculum: Geography. In other places, skills are formed into lists or other categories in their own right, as for example, from the NZ Ministry of Education. Regardless of how they are organised, it would be fair to say that, across these categories of skills, we would encounter some skills that would be termed as ‘traditional’. This raises some questions:
- What might be considered the traditional skills of geography?
- Are these traditional skills as relevant and useful as they always have been?
- Are the more contemporary skills that are emphasised today more about employing modern tools and technologies to do ‘traditional’ things?
- Is there a case for ensuring that students are able to utilise traditional skills in the traditional, as well as contemporary ways?
There are some, however, who would argue that skills have been, or are overly-emphasised in some school curricula at the expense of other important aspects. When UK education secretary Michael Gove initiated the review of the National Curriculum a couple of years ago, he was critical of a “lack of facts and vital knowledge” in many areas of the curriculum. We might consider whether a focus on skills, especially when not in the context of content, a good idea? Does the ‘knowledge turn’ potentially affect the quality of skills teaching in geography?
As the Australian Curriculum: Geography* was under development, there was early criticism that skills at the primary level expected too much of essentially non-specialist teachers. More recently, questions have been raised about the lack of specificity in skills, with fieldwork and the sequential development of skills using geospatial technologies not technically included in the Curriculum’s mandatory ‘Content Descriptions’. This has undoubtedly come about because the Australian Curriculum, Reporting and Assessment Authority (ACARA) required inquiry and skills to be combined in a single strand with generic inquiry as the organising structure. Having said this, is there the risk of creating potentially vast ‘checklists’ of skills to be covered in a curriculum? Should choices about how and when particular skills are covered be left solely for teachers to determine?
Where, then is the balance in teaching skills in geography to be found? Traditional versus contemporary, stand-alone versus integrated, explicit versus implicit, and so on. Has geography moved past the need to teach traditional skills or are there other imperatives? Join us for the next #GeoEdChat to share your views on skills in geography via Twitter on Wednesday, 5 June, or if you can’t make it, leave your replies here.
(* Declaration: This blogger was involved as a writer of the Australian Curriculum: Geography but the views expressed here are his views are his own.)