Initial Teacher Education offers fascinating, complex and vital opportunities to think across academic disciplines, school subjects and pedagogy. Over a decade ago, reflecting on her experiences of externally examining geography Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) courses, Margaret Roberts asked: ‘Where’s the geography?’ (Roberts, 2010, p. 112).
As student teachers spend more time in schools, they engage with the complexities of making decisions about what to teach, how and why. These decisions may be influenced by factors including, but not limited to: their own philosophies, school cultures and communities; research they have engaged with; educational policies and priorities; and the resources they are able to access. The question posed by Margaret Roberts suggests that in navigating these complex decisions, student teachers did not consistently engage with geographical knowledge, ideas, methods, concepts and debates in the lessons that she observed them teach. While the concerns that Roberts raised have primarily been used to support a conceptual push for a focus on disciplinary thought and subjects (such as geography) framing teaching in schools, as three educators with research interests in, and across, geography and education, her question also resonates with us in a different way.
Since the 1960s, ‘geographies of education’ has developed as a field of research in the discipline of geography (Kraftl et al., 2021). Research in the field initially examined ‘social and spatial inequalities in access to education, differential outcomes for children of different social backgrounds, and the relationship between education, spatial inequalities, and social exclusion’ (Waters, 2018). Geographical concepts have enabled active and critical re-examination of education, and its systems and practices, at varied spatial and temporal scales. This includes consideration of the micro geographies of spaces such as classrooms, and examination of processes and patterns which shape education at international, national and local scales.
‘Geographical concepts have enabled active and critical re-examination of education, and its systems and practices … including consideration of the micro geographies of spaces such as classrooms, and examination of processes and patterns which shape education at international, national and local scales.’
The field continues to evolve as it is shaped by philosophical shifts in geography (and by geographers) and as it responds to issues and changes in society and the world (Kraftl et al., 2021). However, despite engagement with these debates by educationalists (Brock, 2016; Puttick, 2022) and exciting interdisciplinary discussions between geographers and those researching and teaching in the discipline of education (Healey et al., 2021), there are few generalist education courses (undergraduate or postgraduate taught) which include a module on geographies of education. Geography’s insights into space and place (among other concepts) offer vital perspectives through which to understand education, and as Simandan (2013) argues, learning itself is a geographical process.
Formal education is a fundamental part of most societies, and as such, ‘schools, colleges and universities are often taken-for-granted locations’ (Brooks & Waters, 2017, p. 12). However, education is never neutral: it is inherently political. Educational spaces are designed, constructed, (re)produced, experienced and imagined in different ways by different people. Education is shaped by place and time-space, just as it shapes people’s lives and geographies. Geographical concepts, ideas, knowledge and methods can help us to understand, question and investigate educational spaces, places, institutions, systems and practices. Geographical questions about education and educational spaces also reveal fascinating insights into the social and spatial construction of childhood, and into the nature of societies’ aspirations for the future (Kraftl, in press).
It is our hope that these brief comments begin to sketch areas of potential contribution offered by geography to education: areas that are important for students of education as they consider the spaces they will work in and shape. What distinctive contributions can geographies of education have for students studying education? What theoretical, conceptual and methodological areas should be prioritised? What synergies can be further developed between the geographies of education and core modules in education?
To further examine the potential opportunities and value of incorporating geographies of education into general educational programmes, we are organising a series of events over the coming months to continue these discussions with a range of stakeholders, working in different educational and spatial contexts. The first event will be a conceptual introduction to these debates on Thursday, 29 September 2022, 16:00–17:00 (BST). You can register for the event at this link.
Brock, C. (2016). Geography of education: Scale, space and location in the study of education. Bloomsbury Academic.
Brooks, R., & Waters, J. (2017). Materialities and mobilities in education. Routledge.
Healey, R., France, D., Hill, J., & West, H. (2020). The history of the Higher Education Research Group of the UK Royal Geographical Society: The changing status and focus of geography education in the academy. Area, 54, 6–14. https://doi.org/10.1111/area.12685
Kraftl, P. (in press). Geographies of educational spaces. In L. Hammond, M. Biddulph, S. Catling, & J. H. McKendrick (Eds.), Children, education and geography: Rethinking intersections. Routledge.
Kraftl, P., Andrews, W., Beech, S., Ceresa, G., Holloway, S., Johnson, V., & White, C. (2021). Geographies of education: A journey. Area, 54, 15–23. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1111/area.12698
Puttick, S. (2022). Geographical education I: Fields, interactions and relationships. Progress in Human Geography, 46(3). https://doi.org/10.1177/03091325221080251
Roberts, M. (2010). Where’s the geography? Reflections on being an external examiner. Teaching Geography, 35(3), 112–113.
Simandan, D. (2013). Introduction: Learning as a geographical process. The Professional Geographer, 65(3), 363–368. https://doi.org/10.1080/00330124.2012.693872
Waters, J. (2018). Geographies of education. Oxford Bibliographies Online. https://doi.org/10.1093/OBO/9780199874002-0182