In Response to Keylock

By Wynn, Mike | Geography, Autumn 2007 | Go to article overview

In Response to Keylock


Wynn, Mike, Geography


Christopher Keylock's Education Matters article, 'Reforming AS/A2 physical geography to enhance geographic scholarship', in Geography Autumn 2006 (91, 3), does not appear to consider all the issues.

The gulf that has opened up between A2 geography and university geography departments can be directly ascribed to government interference in the curriculum.

The Associated Examining Board's A-level syllabus introduced in the early 1980s lasted until the mid 1990s. This syllabus had depth as well as breadth of geographical study, integrated human and physical geography, and included many environmental aspects. This was one of the most holistic and dynamic A-level syllabuses there has ever been and a real pleasure to teach. At that time - in contrast to Keylock's current findings - my geography students would come back from university to report that they were studying many A-level topics again at no greater depth.

However, government pressure from the mid 1990s resulted in the development of modules and the division of A-level into AS and A2. There is no way AS is any preparation for university geography degrees, it is a 'glorified GCSE' (to quote one of my colleagues). A2 only lives up to the 'gold standard' through the structure of the examination, not through an holistic approach to geography. Current specifications are narrow and do not allow for coherent understanding of the many linkages within the subject and between geography and other subjects.

Schools as well as universities have to meet targets and this has led to the compartmentalisation of education, made worse by the fact that textbooks are written specifically for just one specification. There is little wonder that students now have a 'minimum knowledge needed to pass' attitude, with little desire or willingness to read beyond the subject, and I suspect that this could be true of some university degrees as well.

Stannard's quoted statement: 'half-baked school-sponsored notions' (Stannard, 2003, p. 319) patently indicates a lack of understanding of the educative process, and his reported remark that geography is 'a static, stuffy subject in schools' (Stannard, 2003, p. 318) is derogatory and does not help the discussion. Where are the books written by university geographers for A-level students to help smooth the transition from A-level to undergraduate courses? Where are the courses run by university teachers for A-level teachers to keep the latter up-to-date with the latest developments?

It is difficult for 16-18-year-olds to know exactly where they are going in their career, so subjects chosen alongside A-level geography may not always be suitable for research in physical geography, but surely three years of undergraduate study should ensure the scientific expertise required. …

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