Why teach Geography?

Geography explains the past, illuminates the present, and prepares us for the future. What could be more important than that?

Michael Palin, President of the Royal Geographical Society, 2009-2012.

This section explores how geographical studies help students understand the uniqueness of their own place, the world they live in and their involvement within it. It supports them to explore not just the physical aspects, but also the impacts of human values and culture on society, the environment and places.

The illustrations of practice provided are:
Illustration 1: Geography and careers
Illustration 2: Teaching geography for a better world


Geography is the study of places - their biophysical and human characteristics, their interconnections and interdependencies, and their variation across space. It is the link between the physical and the human that is the unique strength of geography and which helps students to make sense of the world around them. From a very early age young people have a curiosity about the world, a wonderful geographical imagination and an appreciation of the world's diversity.

In geography, students undertake class research, practical activities and field investigations, and take local action. This helps them develop a holistic view of people and the environments that make up their world. It also encourages students to make and justify value judgements about people and environmental issues based on analysis of information and data.

There has never been a more exciting time to study Geography – it is vital to the education of every young Australian in the 21st century.

Geography: A study of places

People are attracted to the study of geography for a range of reasons … For many, the initial fascination is aroused through an interest in places, their characteristics and variety. That appeal may be stimulated by direct experience of one or more places, by the study of documentary evidence such as maps or, increasingly, by exposure to places through visual media. Whatever the origin of the curiosity, however, the goal becomes the same: to appreciate the diversity which characterises the earth's surface, and to understand its origins.

Johnston, R. (1996). 'A place in geography.' In E. Rawling & R. Daugherty (Eds.).
Geography into the twenty-first century
. Chichester: Wiley, pp. 59–76.

It is the study of places - their environments, populations, economies and communities - and how and why these places are changing that arouse curiosity in students. Through inquiry, students are able to explore places by asking questions such as:

  • What are the geographical characteristics of this place?
  • Is this place used sustainably?
  • Are the people in this place living sustainably?
  • What is the relationship of this place with other places in the area, region or country?
  • What are the possible, probable and preferred futures of this place?

The rich diversity of places and issues enables students to explore their world in geography in a unique way.

Geography: A study of interconnections

Geographers question why things are the way they are. Because geography combines both physical and human studies, it enables students to make sense of complex issues such as climate change, food production, drought, desertification, land degradation, water resources, human wellbeing, ageing populations, urban growth, ethnic conflicts, the reasons for migration and refugees, natural disasters, the spread of disease, and globalisation.

By developing deep knowledge and understanding of the basic biophysical and human processes that shape the earth's places, and how they interact with each other, students are well positioned to make sense of a highly connected world. Such studies also allow students to understand the connections between countries, cultures, cities and regions, and between regions within countries.

So many of the issues facing the world are about geography, and there will always be a need for geographers of the future to help understand and solve them.

Ask your students to choose one geographical issue from the Wordle below. Direct students to work in pairs and access the website bubbl.us. Ask them to brainstorm all the interconnections between the physical and human world that have contributed to the issue they have selected.

Macintosh HD:Users:grantkleeman1:Desktop:3.2.1_1_Wordle (1).pdf
Nurturing active and informed global citizens

Geography equips young people with the knowledge, skills and values to make informed decisions on local, state and national issues as future citizens. By promoting positive values, geography can assist students to take responsibility for their actions and to see themselves as global citizens who can contribute to a more peaceful, just and sustainable world.

From a local perspective, geography students can present the results of a field investigation or study to a local council or government authority, taking on a local citizenship role. From a global perspective, even the youngest geography students have the capacity to move beyond their personal experience and gain knowledge and understandings of issues in distant places and situations.

By developing empathy for other people and places, geography students are able to participate in shaping a better, shared future for the world. They are able to develop a sense of self and appreciation of cultural diversity, support social justice, human rights and building peace, and undertake actions for a sustainable future in different times and places.

Geography provides students with opportunities to clarify their own values and attitudes to the stewardship of the earth and living sustainably. It supports active citizenship, social justice, intercultural understanding and geographical empathy.

The following newspaper articles provide some interesting views expressed by Tim Costello, head of World Vision. These articles will allow you to explore how geography equips young people for the future:

Let geography teach next generation. Tim Costello argues that geography should be given the same prominence as history in the new national curriculum to help students think critically about a breadth of environmental and social issues.

Interviewed by the Brisbane Times in September 2010 Tim Costello argued that:

… Geography should be given the same prominence as history … to help students think critically about issues including climate change, asylum seekers and indigenous Australians.
… Geography was too important to be merely an elective in an already crowded curriculum. Geography is a subject that needs to be a core subject for the compulsory years of schooling and not an optional extra … it deserves the same profile and place in the timetable as does history.
… We need young Australians who can learn from the past and be critically aware of the issues facing the world in the present and the future.
Geography was not just about learning how to read maps and reciting the names of capital cities. Rather, it called for critical thinking and the development of important knowledge about big issues of sustainability, migration, asylum seekers, population and climate change.
Our children need a great education that equips them to be global citizens in an increasingly globalised world - and our world needs engaged and well-educated Australians with a global ethic.
Tim Costello, interviewed by Anna Patty, September 6, 2010

Why geography must have its place. The point is made that there is a growing 'need for a critical, globally-aware generation with a passion to care for the most disadvantaged and vulnerable '… and that geography is a subject that encourages and supports students to critically look at these 'big issues'.

In an article written for The Age newspaper in 2010 Tim Costello posed the questions:

WHAT are we teaching our young people? What do we want them to know about the world and their place in it? What fire do we want to light in their lives? What are the questions that Australians need to be asking?

He went on to argue that:

Australia needs to be educating a generation who will be informed and active citizens engaged with our democratic processes. We need a generation who will have a passion to see our governments implement policies for sustainable development and a real concern for the needs of the poor. …
… [Geography] is a subject that deals head-on with the globally integrated world we live in and the big issues of sustainability, migration, refugees and asylum seekers, global inequalities, population and climate change …

He subsequently notes that:

A thoughtful student of geography would appreciate that people seeking asylum in Australia are fleeing some of the worst humanitarian situations you can imagine. A generation of informed, educated Australians would know that Australia takes about 13,500 refugees as part of its overall immigration intake and that Australia is not "being flooded" with asylum seekers.
A globally aware student would point out that it is countries such as Pakistan, Chad, Kenya, Iran and Syria that are being flooded — countries with far less capacity than Australia. They would know, too, that it is not "illegal" to arrive in Australia by boat and seek asylum.
Similarly, students of geography would know that the world's poorest people are already suffering due to climate change and will continue to suffer the most with more prolonged droughts, more severe floods and storms, less food and more disease.
They would appreciate that without more ambitious action, the tide of displaced people seeking a place of refuge is expected to swell.
They would be aware of UNICEF reports that climate change could contribute between 40,000 and 160,000 extra child deaths a year in Asia and the Horn of Africa. Calls for significant action on climate change may now be politically incorrect but that would not deter the active citizenship of a well-educated Australian population.
Geography needs to be a core subject for the compulsory years of schooling and not an optional extra. It deserves the same profile and place in the timetable as does history. There is a genuine concern that this may not be the case in the new Australian curriculum.
We need young people who can learn from the past and be critically aware of the issues facing the world in the present and the future.
It is also a vehicle through which critical literacy and numeracy skills can be taught in an engaging, real-life context. Geography is not just about reading maps and the learning of capital cities. Geography involves hard, critical thinking and the development of important knowledge and skills. …
… Our children need a great education that equips them to be global citizens in an increasingly globalised world — and our world needs engaged and well-educated Australians with a global ethic.

The Age newspaper, September 13, 2010

Preparing young adults for many careers

Geography is a diverse discipline that can lead to many career options. In addition to knowing about our planet and its people, those studying geography learn to:

  • think critically
  • research (in the field and in the classroom)
  • collect data
  • analyse and make decisions on issues
  • communicate their thoughts through writing and other means of communication.

Thus, they will have skills that are valued in all careers and make them highly employable, enabling them to work in a wide variety of fields across both government and non-government sectors.

Geography provides a rich and varied context for the use of spatial technologies to enhance learning. Students are provided with many opportunities to use spatial technologies such as GPS (Global Positioning System) in the field to identify a location, Google Earth or Google Maps and Nearmap to investigate places on a local to global scale and manipulate data and information, and GIS (Geographic Information System) to help analyse and synthesise data. These skills are highly sought after in many careers.

Geography is a well-rounded discipline that provides students with ample career opportunities, and knowledge about our rapidly changing world and how they can create solutions to future challenges.

About the illustrations

Illustration 1: Geography and careers focuses on the knowledge and skills that geographers bring to various careers, and the links between the study of geography and future employment opportunities. A range of resources is provided, including activities that link geography and careers and questions for teachers to discus and reflect on.

Illustration 2: Teaching geography for a better world makes links between the Australian Curriculum: Geography (and HASS) and teaching geography for a better world. A range of resources is provided including suggested activities to scaffold student's understanding of how geography can support positive change in communities, and questions for discussion and reflection.


Australian Geography Teachers Association Ltd, Institute of Australian Geographers Inc & The Royal Geographical Society of Queensland Inc. (2009). Towards a national geography curriculum for Australia.
Geography Teachers Association of Victoria. Geography: It's essential.
Johnston, R. (1996). 'A place in geography.' In E. Rawling & R. Daugherty (Eds.). Geography into the twenty-first century. Chichester: Wiley, pp. 59–76.