The need for GIS

What impact has GIS had on geographical education in secondary schools?

The use of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) has become an increasingly important element in secondary level geography in recent years. The 2000 National Curriculum Programme of Study made little mention of GIS, but the draft orders that are due to be released in September 2007 refer consistently to its use:

‘The curriculum needs to provide opportunities for pupils to:

Use varied resources, including maps, visual media and Geographical Information Systems’ (QCA, in Gardner 2007:7)

In the draft Welsh Geography subject orders, the use of GIS appears for the first time as a measure of ‘exceptional performance’ within the Key Stage Three level descriptions:

‘They use GIS, and interpret and analyse different maps to select information and identify relationships between spatial patterns’ (DELLS, 2007:21)

At GCSE and higher levels GIS is regularly referred to in exemplar materials as an effective means of developing knowledge and understanding (e.g. WJEC, 2006:22), though not as a statutory assessed element of study. The Pilot OCR GCSE makes direct reference to GIS as an important skill throughout the course (OCR, 2004:21), and recognises its importance by offering a specific GIS optional unit (OCR, 2004:38-43).

The importance of GIS in secondary geography is clearly evident at the curriculum planning level, but to what extent is this reflected in the classroom practice of most departments? Though research on the use of GIS remains rather scarce in the UK, there is clear evidence from the United States that use of GIS in schools has been at best limited, with Kerski (2003:2) reporting that less than 2% of American schools have adopted the use of GIS.

There is clearly a gap between the importance of GIS amongst the curriculum planners and the level of usage in the classroom. This assignment deconstructs this apparent schism by reviewing current literature and reflecting upon my own experience as a teacher in a mixed secondary school in South Wales. The opening section reviews research on the impacts of GIS on geographical learning. The second section explores the reasons behind the apparent reluctance of departments and individual teachers to adopt the use of GIS in the classroom. The final section looks to the future and offers ways forward
This is what Nigerian curriculum developers and other stakeholders must do to move away from the usual lip service.


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