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Why study Geography (still)?

By Danny Harrington

 I just came across an old article I wrote on the ITS blog in 2009 called Why study Geography? It’s always interesting to read back over things that your old self wrote. If you’re a student or indeed under the age of 30 you probably won’t appreciate that so much but as you get older it grows in interest and perhaps importance. The first thing that amazed me was that we have been running this blog for so long. But also that so much of what I wrote I still very firmly believe in today. It is as true in my mind as it was then that

Geography brings about a better and more thorough understanding of the places we live in and why they matter”

and that the knowledge and skills gained and honed by the Geographer will allow us to lead

“better lives as individuals and communities of the present, but that we can set the foundations for the betterment of generations to come”.

But I also read back and felt that there were things left unsaid and things perhaps not so clear, that the language was a bit high-brow. So, given that I still enthusiastically teach Geography to 14-18 year olds (mainly) and that studying the subject brings great value to the individual and thus to the communities they live in, I thought I would quickly revisit the benefits of studying Geography particularly all the way through degree level. This is important because Geography is best started some time in middle-secondary school, roughly age 14, and then followed through 8 years or more of study. So decisions have to be made relatively early on this.

As I hinted at in the original, Geography is about all places at all times. It is about the environments found there, the people that live there and all the processes that take place there. It allows for a truly holistic view of life as we know it (not a full understanding but as good a view as we can get). So beyond the sheer pleasure and fulfilment one may get from such an educational experience and the skills it gives you to continue to learn beyond formal education, it is a fantastic foundation for further study and for the world beyond childhood/academia, whatever that may hold.

Perhaps one of the greatest criticisms and weaknesses of academia, science, research and what-have-you in the last 30 or even 50 years, has been the retreat from inter-disciplinary research and co-operation, with ever more specialist people looking at ever narrower fields. It is the Geographer who represents the best chance to draw our knowledge gains all together and try to make sense of the real world, where nothing ever occurs in isolation. Indeed with the economic issues of globalisation and the key environmental issue of climate change (which are themselves entwined), one can say fairly confidently that the world around us has proven quite clearly that we need co-ordinated and integrated approaches to the issues we face. These are no longer idle issues either but serious species-threatening issues, ourselves included.

So when as a student you face some of those difficult questions such as: What do I want to do in life? What should I study? What jobs will there even be when I am looking for one? by answering Geography you set yourself up for success. Because whatever the jobs are, the really interesting and important ones will require people who can analyse, problem-solve, use modern tech and information systems, & be synoptic in their approach. Whether you study pure Geography or add it to one of the hundreds of other disciplines on offer, you will be positioned to join many others in the search for the solutions to the world’s contemporary issues.

The range of options mean that just about anyone can find their niche – whether you want to be a scientist in the Antarctic or off in the harshest of arid areas, or an anthropologist in urban communities or societies under threat – there is something for anyone. And if you don’t know what you want to do while you are being asked to make this decision, then Geography, as one the most all-encompassing subjects, is one of the few that allows you to defer those life-shaping decisions until you have matured a little more and have a better understanding of where you want to go without any detriment to your chances of being able to do so.

ITS Education Asia offers Geography IGCSE and IAL under the Edexcel specifications, along with many other subjects. Students can learn at our 2 Hong Kong schools or online with flexible timetables to suit different life situations and locations. Get in touch today.

Dulwich College Singapore

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