Geography Geography Education (K-12)
David Lambert
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 September 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 October 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0028


Geography education here means the presence, role, and purposes of geography in the primary and secondary education system (and we are not concerned here with the geographies of education). In other words we are concerned mainly with the educational provision deemed appropriate for the vast majority of children and young people in state-mandated education systems and the contribution geography make to this. From the start, we must acknowledge that it is extremely hazardous to make generalizations regarding these matters across different national and state jurisdictions. Some countries have strong centralized national curriculums with tight controls through state-approved textbooks (e.g., Iran) or high stakes inspection systems (e.g., England), while other countries organize education federally (e.g., Germany, United States), with strong preferences for local control (e.g., Sweden, Finland). In some countries, geography in school is aligned with the sciences (e.g., Finland, where geography teachers usually also teach biology), in some, geography is considered to be in the social sciences (as in most of the United States), and in others, it is more often classified as one of the humanities (as in the United Kingdom). The visibility of geography in schools also varies enormously, with some jurisdictions favoring specialist subject teaching (usually in the secondary phase), while others support more integrated and/or competence-based approaches to the curriculum. We should also note that none of these characteristics is necessarily stable. Education has become highly politicized, as it is often linked closely with economic performance and global competitiveness; thus, for example, countries regularly review curriculum arrangements. Scholarly work and research in geography education is similarly fractured and is, in any case, a relatively small field. International meetings take place under the auspices of the International Geographical Union Commission on Geographical Education (IGU-CGE), regional networks such as the European Association of Geographers, or Eurogeo, and the annual meetings of learned societies such as the Association of American Geographers and the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers). In many countries there are also subject associations (that serve mainly the interests and needs of school teachers) such as the Geographical Association in England, which is possibly the oldest (established 1893) and largest (c. 6,000 memberships). In view of these introductory comments, it needs to be acknowledged that, although the sources in this article on geography education are international in scope, it is impossible to provide equally for the diversity noted in this introduction. Researchers will find articles, resources, and handbooks in their local jurisdictions to supplement those found here.

General Overviews

Given the points made in the Introduction, overviews of geography education tend to be in the form of handbooks, which are quite country specific, for teachers of geography. These typically have a section, which may be quite short, on the justification of geography in the school curriculum and its philosophy, followed by the main bulk of the book on pedagogy and assessment. Though often well referenced, these books are aimed mainly at a professional audience and have practical technique at their heart. Based more on principle and heavily dependent on conceptual research and development rather than empirical evidence, these books are mainstays and are influential in teacher education and training. In the United States, Gersmehl 2008 provides a detailed account of some principles of geography teaching and a practical guide on how to implement these in the classroom. It contains quite a lot of geographical information and is clearly addressing professionals who themselves may have limited geography in the form of qualifications from their own education. In this sense, the book is quite different from its counterpart in the UK context, where Lambert and Balderstone 2010 adopts a tone appropriate to addressing geography graduates. This book is more concerned with contested ideas of geography, and although it contains much in the form of practical teaching technique, this is more in the form of suggestion and at the level of strategy rather than instruction. The Geographical Association also has produced a large and comprehensive handbook with an impressive collection of authors, including Balderstone 2006. An interesting example from the non-English speaking world is Rolfes and Uhlenwinkel 2013; this professional guide has deliberately assembled an extensive international list of contributors. In addition to professional handbooks, there is a growing literature aimed at the teacher educators and researchers in education (including Masters and post-graduate research students). Butt 2011 is a good example from the United Kingdom, and Walford 2001 provides an historical approach and overview of geography education in the British context. However, the most extensive and useful source is Bednarz, et al. 2013, which is in fact one of three reports from the Road Map project funded by the US National Science Foundation.

  • Balderstone, D., ed. Secondary Geography Handbook. Sheffield, UK: Geographical Association, 2006.

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    With no fewer than forty-two chapters, this book is a monumental achievement that is unlikely to be repeated in the future, as more flexible Web-based professional resources replace the concept of the single authoritative tome

  • Bednarz, S. W., S. Heffron, and N. T. Huynh, eds. A Road Map for 21st Century Geography Education: Geography Education Research Washington, DC: Association of American Geographers, 2013.

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    The Roadmap project reports, although obviously and inevitably US focused, provide an exceptionally useful launch pad for further work designed to improve the practices of thinking geographically and doing geography at school level.

  • Butt, G., ed. Geography, Education, and the Future. London: Continuum, 2011.

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    This discursive book was conceived and written mainly by members of the UK-based Geography Education Research Collective (GEReCo).

  • Gersmehl, P. Teaching Geography. 2d ed. New York: Guilford, 2008.

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    Unlike many of the other overviews cited here, this is a single-authored text and may therefore consciously stress the personal priorities of the author—as with its emphasis on spatial cognition and geography as a social science

  • Lambert, D., and D. Balderstone. Learning to Teach Geography in the Secondary School: A Companion to School Experience. 2d ed. Learning to Teach Subjects in the Secondary School Series. London: Routledge, 2010.

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    This authored contribution to a large book series is comprehensive and has become a standard text for secondary school geography teacher trainees in the United Kingdom.

  • Rolfes, M., and A. Uhlenwinkel, eds. Metzler Handbuch 2.0: Geographieunterricht. Ein Leitfaden fur Praxis und Ausbildung. Braunschweig, Germany: Westermann, 2013.

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    This is for readers of the German language. It has extensive and impressive range (almost 600 pages) and is truly international in its conception, though dominated by authors from Germany and the United Kingdom.

  • Walford, R. Geography in British Schools 1850–2000: Making a World of Difference. London: Routledge, 2001.

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    This book uniquely provides a history of geography as a school subject in Britain, presenting us with the significant and often overlooked fact that it predates geography as a university discipline by many decades. The book traces the school subject as an element of the social history of the nation.

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