Geography as a secondary school subject allows students to explore and understand the relationship between people, places and events through the study of space, place and environment. Students are able to understand about the relationship of the earth and its people, including the interrelationship between Australia and Australians by making connections from information contained in various sources such as maps and books (Fien, 2003). The three concepts of space, place and environment constitute the central basis for developing a geographical framework for enquiry. In pursuit of such knowledge, students seek to ask and get answers for questions of “What”, “Where”, “How”, “Why” and “What if”.
The natural and social sciences characteristics that Geography draws constitute an integrated approach to biophysical and social aspects of people and places making it a unique subject. This enables students to link humans to their physical environments and make sound decisions in a range of social and environmental areas (Morgan, 2002). The strength of Geography in assisting students make intellectual enquiries is dawn from its numerous capabilities. As a result, this study will explore how the contemporary junior geography curriculum allows students to develop the skills for rich intellectual inquiry?
Literacy and Numeracy
The study of geography is well placed to develop students’ literacy and numeracy skills, since it is both qualitative and quantitative. The discipline presents students with an opportunity to strengthen and improve these skills, as they engage in purposeful reading and writing skills in varied forms, ranging from reports and presentations (Naish, Rawling and Hart, 2002). Activities such as field work interviews, role plays and presentations play an important role in improving students’ communicative skills. Numerical skills are developed when students undertake real life situations, which can be both extrinsically and intrinsically motivating. In these activities, students acquire skills for analyzing and synthesizing ideas; basic numeracy in calculating, tabulating and graphical presentation; literacy skills through short written comprehension, expressions and readings; and solving complex problems using mathematical symbols and abstractions (Naish, Rawling and Hart, 2002).
Geography stimulates creativity by encouraging students to think innovatively about possible solutions to problems. A geographical education promotes the capacity of students to apply important geographical concepts, skills and knowledge in new situations and to create working solutions with these skills (Fogarty, 2006).
Geographical education gives students an opportunity to think critically, solve problems on their own and make sound decisions when heir learning requires them to back up their arguments with evidence. This is more effective when the curriculum provides space for instructors and students with an opportunity to work through geographical inquiry methods (Fogarty, 2006). The Thinking through Geography program by Leat’s (1998) is also very relevant in this area, since it is directed towards to improving the cognitive development of students.
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Geography provides students with an opportunity to master ICT, which can be applied in all stages of geographical inquiry. Students develop an understanding of and apply spatial technology skills in the classroom and in real life (West, 1999). One important area where students improve their skills is Global Positioning System (GPS), which assists students in the field to identify locations, make observations using Google earth maps, collect up-to-date information from the website and record their findings in a spreadsheet (West, 1999). Geographical Information Systems assist students in analyzing and synthesizing data and present their findings using a web 2.0 site. These applications are very beneficial in Australian geography classes, especially in exchanging information among schools.
Geography gives students opportunities to manage their learning as well as reflect on it (Rawling and Westway, 2003). Self management progresses as students develop new skills to a point where they can undertake a self directed research projects addressing geographical problems in their local environments.
Students develop interpersonal skills and learn to work cooperatively with others in a team by engaging in group research projects. The insights and perspectives brought to the team by other members serve as learning experiences for the students to appreciate. Teachers continue to observe the effectiveness resulting from participating in fieldwork in developing team work skills. This also leads t students’ self-awareness of their abilities and a discovery of their weaknesses. It has further been established that quality fieldwork improves interpersonal and collaborative skills (Morgan, 2002).
Geographical education aims at developing geographical empathy and geographical imagination- the ability to imagine different places and appreciate why people in those places act the way they do (Morgan, 2002). In a geography class, students learn to examine the perspectives of others. This applies to different cultural groups, as well as different subgroups in Australia. Students gain an understanding of the varying biophysical and social contexts of different cultures as well as spatial inequalities present within and between nations. This understanding encourages them to value diversity, which is an important concept in geography (Lidstone, 2003). All these aspects enable students to develop respect for other cultures and empathy for people with different cultures.
Geography continues to focus strongly on ethical behavior in students, in their local, national and international investigations of geographical issues. This includes students understanding and clarifying their values, respecting the beliefs of others and reflecting on how they address issues.
Social competence entails having a strong sense of self identity and geography has role to play in this. According to Lidstone (2003), place is very important in the development of a complete and an all rounded self identity. In this regard, geography and its teaching can have a major impact in the partnership with parents and peers and personal exploration of the surrounding (Naish, Rawling and Hart, 2002). It is also important in developing a sense of responsible citizenship, as focus moves from individual well-being to the well being of the society. Fieldwork, which is an important component of geography, is very essential in developing social competence. Indeed, outdoor learning has been found to contribute to students’ development of social, interpersonal and collaborative skill (Fien, 2003). Thus, geography fieldwork has a role to play in this development in a student’s learning process.
As in the case of intercultural understanding, geography students respect the perspectives of other people other than theirs. This includes Torres Strait Islander and the ways of Aboriginal viewing and relating to the universe. The core of geography teaching in Australia reflects Australia’s Indigenous people’s close connection with place. For instance, this is reflected in the recent publication of AGTA, Keys to Fieldwork (Fien, 2003). The discipline gives students a chance to study and appreciate many contemporary issues that affect indigenous people such as population structures, economies, environmental issues and spatial differences in access in services.
Indigenous perspectives in geography do not only entail analyzing Indigenous issues. Attaching importance to physical, temporal, cultural and relational aspects of place is a characteristic aspect of geography as it was to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Current geographers’ understanding of the world in terms of patterns and natural features is similar to Australian Indigenous people’s view of the world. Geography appreciates the continued relationship between traditional custodians and cultural practices of the local area (Demeritt, 2009).
Sustainable Patterns of Living
In examining contemporary issues, geography builds on an appreciation of the processes and interrelationships that produce the characteristics of places. These include management of natural resources, planning of cities or the state of the local economy (Morgan, 2002). Geography also explores policies and strategies to manage these issues. Geography equips students with values, knowledge and skills to make decisions on local, national and international issues like future responsible citizens (Andrew, 2006). However, geography students can still contribute in solving national issues by providing the outcomes of their investigations. Geography gives students knowledge on real issues facing their countries and places, and gives them essential and sound insight regarding global issues such as globalization, population growth, urbanization and climate change. This geography knowledge is also necessary in developing global citizenship.
Geography is a highly motivating subject, whose focus is inclusive of a wide range of student abilities. It emphasizes on active learning strategies that engage directly with the experiences of the students (Demeritt, 2009). Students enjoy learning through field work which is an essential part of with the variety of learning styles in geography, students get tremendouss opportunities for self fulfillment, for example, linguistic skill from expository teaching and interviews and writing essays; logical and mathematical expressions from categorizing and classifying information, solving problems and analyzing data; Kinaesthetic from undertaking practical and fieldwork as well as building models; interpersonal skills from team work, enabling them to empathize with others on perspectives regarding various issues; and intrapersonal development form reflecting on their learning.
Geography also provides students with in-depth understanding of the changing world. Through examining the interrelationship between among people, place and environment, students are able to understand the changing contemporary world in terms of space and environment (West, 1999). Moreover, the study of geography is a great opportunity for students to develop their intellectual capacity for lifelong learning as well as generic skills such as communication, critical thinking, information processing, problem solving, decision making etc. in addition, geography adopts an enquiry approach that enables students to develop important abilities such as sound judgment, which are essential in whole-person development (Roberts, 2003). The learning experiences in geography provide individuals; society and environmental relationships with a platform for growth, and these skills can be applied in life situations.
Geography education helps students understand the specialized processes and approaches of the discipline and the connection of ideas, issues, information and perspectives of other disciplines for the common benefit of the student. In drawing on history, geography provides a perfect opportunity for curriculum integration. Geography is viewed to focus on instructions that provide a rich context of the subject, in addition to increased intellectual proficiency (Rawling and Westway, 2003). For students who want to study Geography in the universities, the study of geography in secondary school provides them with a solid conceptual foundation while those with a different interest are exposed to a higher level of thinking. For all students, it provides spatial perspective towards social economic and environmental issues and opportunities to put into use their generic skills and communicate using information technology (Roberts, 2003).
Unity and Diversity
Geography classes that focus on local, state and national subject matter also examine concepts of unity and diversity in Australia. Students see how inhabitants of the country are united by shared values, traditions, practices, interests and needs which have evolved over time. As a result, students gain an understanding of ideals such as humanity and dignity, the value of diversity, equity, limited government, rule of law, government by consent of the governed, freedom to pursue economic activity and popular sovereignty (Demeritt, 2009). Students also understand Australia’s way of dealing with grievances. Students are able to examine and analyze the changes that these institutions have undergone by focusing on the interactions between people, groups and the society at large.
Geography education instills students with intellectual skills, knowledge, civic understandings and dispositions toward democratic values that are fundamental to function well in the society. Geographic studies instruction help students to play the role of responsible citizens in the state’s democracy as they contribute actively to a society that is increasingly diverse and interdependent with other nations of the world (Morgan, 2002). Students with this type of learning have the necessary background to conduct research on their own and cast informed votes, using their skills to place conflicting ideas in context and with this wisdom make sound judgment in dealing with fears present in the society such as the fight to find a balance between protecting individual rights and promoting the common good (Fien, 2003).
Geography as a discipline enables students to understand the spatial perspective of the world we live in. it provides a systematic framework for enquiry into questions regarding an environmentally sustainable future (Roberts, 2003). Geography provides a bridge between social and physical sciences, by creating an understanding of social and economical dynamics on one hand, and the physical landscapes and environmental processes on the other hand (Morgan, 2002). Geography also provides students with knowledge on world issues and events. Students acquire knowledge on political, social, cultural and environmental events and issues that shape the earth. This involves examining significant world issues and events that shaped the history and geography of other places as well as issues of current relevance and interest. The study of geography aims at understanding specific characteristics, processes or problems and providing workable solutions for sustainable development (Demeritt, 2009). With geographical knowledge, students enhance their intellectual skills for rich intellectual inquiry which meets the ultimate goal for education.