Shelley Monk, OCR Geography Subject Advisor
Young people and their parents may well ask: why study geography and what can you do with it? In this blog, I’ll look at the knowledge and skills that students can gain from studying the subject and some of the careers it could lead to – particularly in the area of ‘green jobs’.
The Royal Geographical Society explains that ‘Geography helps us to explore and understand space and place – recognising the great differences in cultures, political systems, economies, landscapes and environments across the world, and exploring the links between them.’
Geography can help young people make sense of the world, from their local area to more complex global issues. We know that young people are environmentally curious, many want to engage with the natural world, and some are already influential and knowledgeable decision makers. They are keen to understand more about the role they can play in key global issues such as climate change, sustainability, plastic pollution, food security, inequality, or poverty, to name a few.
In the aims and learning outcomes of our GCSE geography specifications we talk about the knowledge and skills students can gain while exploring contemporary issues in real world contexts. It is the student’s ability to ‘think like a geographer’ which sees them diving into the complexity of human, physical and environmental geography as they gain an understanding of interactions, change and inter-relationships. The students will also learn to ‘study like a geographer’ which sees them go beyond the classroom to develop their geographical and fieldwork skills.
When developing our qualifications, we talked to and worked with teachers to understand what interested young people and we used education stakeholders and research to inform our topic choices. This has led us in part to offering an enquiry-based qualification (GCSE B), as geographers often like to ask big questions such as ‘what are the opportunities and challenges for cities today?’ or ‘will we run out of natural resources?’
At A Level we took a similar approach, but we wanted to include optional topics in our Geographical Debates section which would be contemporary, interesting and would support students with their potential future career choices. These are Climate Change, Disease Dilemmas, Exploring Oceans, Future of Food and Hazardous Earth.
Our specifications draw on concepts such as place, space, scale, interdependence, environmental impact, sustainability and processes so that students develop their understanding of and ability to apply these. The Ofsted Research review series: geography explains: ‘Concepts are important in geography as they draw out the links between processes and ideas. To develop their understanding of each of these concepts, pupils need to learn the range of relevant knowledge and skills. It is from this knowledge and development of these skills that pupils gain a more abstract appreciation of the subject’.
Qualifications in geography encompass not only the subject knowledge and concepts but the development of skills which are transferrable to further study or the world of work. These include geographical skills, where students develop cartographic and graphical skills, and technical skills, through engagement with digital tools and platforms such as Geographical Information Systems (GIS). Students engage in fieldwork and develop enquiry, data collection, analytical and evaluative skills. Geographers develop skills in dealing with complex issues where they can appreciate different viewpoints and interpret various resources to develop their arguments.
Fieldwork has long been considered integral to the study of geography as an opportunity for students to have first-hand experiences of outdoor learning ‘in the field’ where they can explore what they have learnt in the classroom in a real-world context. It is the exposure to specialised learning, equipment and tools, as well as developing the softer skills of working in collaboration with their peers, which brings the practical and personal skills together in the fieldwork component. The Geographical Association, the Royal Geographical Society and the Field Studies Council discuss fieldwork in more depth and share resources.
The end of a fieldwork day on the Norfolk coast, exploring beach profiles, processes and much more. But the students were most excited about skimming stones!
The lived curriculum in schools and colleges means that teachers take our specifications and contextualise them for students using case studies and examples which bring topics to life, creating a deeper, more memorable sense of place for students. The case studies embedded in all our specifications can give students an appreciation of wide ranging local, national and global issues.
As a teacher I found that using case studies of places that I had a personal connection with and picking countries that my students had family connections with meant we could use images, artefacts, information, and stories from those places.
Skógafoss waterfall, Iceland
Rural village, western Gambia
The contemporary and synoptic nature of geography can help inform and nurture students as global citizens. Oxfam defines this term as ‘someone who is aware of and understands the wider world – and their place in it. They take an active role in their community and work with others to make our planet more peaceful, sustainable and fairer.’
Learning about particular issues in a local context and global context, especially if related to people and our planet does inspire young people to ask meaningful questions and engage in projects through schemes such as eco-schools, school gardens, climate change or nature groups as well as potentially making changes to their own lives through choices related to transport, food consumption and household waste.
The Geographical Association says that ‘with many contemporary challenges – climate change, food security, energy choices – cannot be understood without a geographical perspective. Thinking and decision making with geography helps us to live our lives as knowledgeable citizens, aware of our own local communities in a global setting’. There are a growing number of providers who support young people learning more and taking action, such as Young People’s Trust for the Environment, Youth in Nature, Wild Schools Climate Action Programme or Wildlife Trusts: Our Bright Future.
Young people are interested to know what they can do with the subjects they opt for at GCSE, AS, A Level or degree: how might their future shape up beyond their studies? We have explored the contemporary nature of the subject, the skills and higher order thinking that students can develop, and this can support their career prospects. The guide My Learning, My Future from the Careers and Enterprise Company supports work towards Gatsby benchmark 4 with ideas, skills, careers and pathways linked to geography.
There has been growing interest in green jobs and the green skills needed for these, which is exciting news for any young people with geography qualifications. The Global Green Skills Report 2022 (LinkedIn) explains that ‘Amid this Great Reshuffle, we’re faced with an urgent need to transition our society to a green economy to address the threat of climate change.’
The ‘Great Reshuffle’ is reference to a historic transformation in how people work, why they work and where they work. What’s interesting and so relevant to geography is their definition of green skills: ‘those that enable the environmental sustainability of economic activities’.
The following table shows the top in-demand green skills required by employers (from the Global Green Skills Report 2022, page 12):
The Royal Geographical Society explores careers through its ‘I am a geographer’ profiles, covering a range of jobs such as research officer, political correspondent, conservationist, catastrophe risk analyst, team leader at the Foreign and Commonwealth office and many more.
The Geographical Association’s website Geography Education Online (GEO) has a series of podcasts and presentations: for careers opportunities, check out where can geography take you and careers spotlight.
The government wants to support and grow more green jobs by 2030 and if students are interested in finding out about current examples they can explore green jobs online and green jobs. The FE news article Finding the Future presents five future job descriptions and it is easy to see how a geographer might apply their knowledge and skills to some if not all of these examples.
As UCAS says ‘Geography is considered one of the broadest subject areas and it has one of the highest employability rates of all undergraduate degrees.’
We would love to hear more about what you are doing in schools and colleges in the curriculum or enrichment programmes to develop young people’s green skills or as environmental ambassadors.
Please share ideas below, send them to email@example.com or tweet @OCR_Geography. You can also sign up for email updates for information about resources and support.
Shelley joined OCR after teaching geography for 16 years. She has considerable experience in delivering GCSE, IGCSE, A Level and the International Baccalaureate qualifications, as well as leading departments in secondary schools in the UK and internationally. She has eight years’ experience as Head of Year 12 and 13, supporting students both pastorally and academically. Shelley worked with the geography team to reform the GCSE, AS and A Level qualifications and she currently supports teachers through the development of a variety of resources, the CPD programme and subject communications. She loves walking her dog, exploring distant places and finding new recipes to trial on family and friends.