Academic journal article Geography

Lessons for the Future: A Geographical Contribution

Academic journal article Geography

Lessons for the Future: A Geographical Contribution

Article excerpt


This article is based on the author's keynote address at the Geographical Association's 2007 conference on 'Geographical Futures'. Beginning with young people's concerns about the future, attention is drawn to the importance of understanding both spatial and temporal interdependence in geography and, in particular, the need for students and teachers to think more critically and creatively about the future. The field of futures studies is cited as a source of expertise which can be used by geographers to develop a futures dimension in the curriculum. Exemplar futures activities are outlined and seen as vital to any notion of good practice in teaching geography.


'All education springs from images of the future and all education creates images of the future. Thus all education, whether so intended or not, is a preparation for the future' (Toffler, 1974).

Given current interest in the nature of a more futures-orientated geography this article sets out ways in which both students and teachers can begin to think more critically and creatively about the future. In particular it explores: i) sources of expertise on futures thinking; ii) why and how these are relevant to geography; iii) what good practice looks like in the classroom.

A recent survey by UCAS and Forum for the Future (2007) invited young university applicants to say what they expected of the future. In particular it asked what they felt life would be like in 25 years' time, when respondents would be in their forties and at the height of their careers. What did these 54,000 'future leaders' expect the world to be like in 2031?

* Respondents expect the world they will be living in to be technologically advanced, but environmentally impoverished

* Three-quarters believe lifestyles will need to change radically for civilisation to survive into the twenty-second century

* Compared to their parents at the same age, 42% see themselves as more worried about the future

* Most (69%) believe that individuals are responsible for the change required for civilisation to continue

* Women are less optimistic about the future than men, feel more change is necessary and are more prepared to contribute to that change (UCAS/FFF, 2007)

I have sometimes heard educators dismiss such views as typical of students and not to be taken seriously However what we have here is vital information about young people's (future) geographies, a matter which should interest all educators as it provides vital access to the concerns young learners have about local and global society today and in the future. While the views expressed in this survey represent the 'voice' of UK university applicants, they may not be typical of other groups. It is important to recall therefore that views of the future (as of other issues) will vary depending on age, gender, culture and class.

Rex Walford was one of the first geographical educators to call for a futures element in geography when he wrote:

"The sustained study of a number of possible geographies of the short-term and middle-term future will encourage the student to consider those aspects of the future which are desirable and those which are not. Hopefully such geography teaching can vitalise school students into an interest in their own futures ...

In urging that we teach a geography of the future, I do not mean to say that we should give up teaching a geography of the past : but we should make that past the servant of the future. If the future is unavoidable let us at least not walk backwards into it' (Walford, 1984, p. 207).

That such an interest is now occurring was witnessed by the theme of the 2007 Geographical Association conference - 'Geographical Futures'.

Geographers come to such an interest in a variety of ways. In my own case it arose from an interest in global issues as a geography teacher in the 1970s, which led to the creation of a national curriculum project on global teaching in the 80s, and an interest in the future impact of global issues in the 90s. …

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