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The GeoCapabilities II project emphasised the value and role of geography as a school subject in cultivating the development of human capabilities.

A capabilities approach to education considers how the individual in his or her context can lead a life that she or he has reason to value. The project argued that acquiring ‘powerful’ geographical knowledge through a geography education is of fundamental value to developing ‘capability’ and that this requires thinking about what should be taught. GeoCapabilities II asked teachers to consider the role of geography and their teaching in helping young people reach their full human potential.

In the context of contemporary change in schools and the intense (and beguiling) pressure to give students ‘twenty first century skills’ and help them ‘learn how to learn’, The GeoCapabilities II project was concerned with the idea that young people are exposed to geographical knowledge and ideas that originate in the specialist subject discipline.

GeoCapabilities II used five underpinning key ideas: (i) the capabilities approach, (ii) ‘powerful’ disciplinary knowledge (iii) powerful pedagogies, (iv) curriculum making, and (v) curriculum leadership.

Project activities and achievements

This EU-funded project, in which the GA was a leading partner, offers geography teachers a framework for thinking about the curriculum and its value in expanding young people’s capabilities to think beyond themselves and their everyday experiences, thereby enabling them to flourish in and contribute to a highly interdependent and complex world.

The project was international – embracing diversity in culture and language which helped understanding of how the value of geography can be expressed and emphasised, whatever any differences in the overall aims and format of the curriculum.

Geography does not tell us how to live, but developing geographical thinking and our innate geographical imaginations does provide the intellectual means for visioning ourselves, others and alternate futures on planet Earth. Consequently, ‘powerful disciplinary knowledge’ helps individuals make sense of the world and enables their capability to participate freely in informed debate and decisions.

Teachers are central to the idea of (geo)capabilities, as they exercise influence and choice over what is taught and how it is taught. Teachers need to go beyond delivery of a curriculum of prescribed ‘given knowledge’, or of a curriculum that over-emphasises ‘learning to learn’ and which blurs subject distinctions, to create a ‘curriculum of engagement’ – what the project advocated as a ‘Future 3 Curriculum’.

Teachers need to think how specialist knowledge can be reconceptualised in the form of geography as a school subject. This requires teachers to re-engage with ‘curriculum making’ as a way of grasping the significance of specialist teachers.

GeoCapabilities II argued that geography teachers can provide access to specialist ‘world knowledge’ and ways of thinking geographically that enable young people to think the ‘yet-to-be-thought’. Or, in the words of the GA’s 2009 Manifesto, to travel with ‘a different view’. Through taking professional responsibility for interpreting the curriculum, all teachers are curriculum leaders.

GeoCapabilities II offers geography teachers a framework for developing their professional responsibility as subject teachers and curriculum leaders. It provides a means of thinking about what they teach that is enabling and adaptable for creating a curriculum of engagement. As such, GeoCapabilities II provided  not a series of lessons or activities but an attempt to grapple with the limits of school curricula based on competence and transferable skills and re-establish the value of geography as a subject in contributing to human capability.

The modules aimed for teachers to:

  1. develop understanding of (geo)capabilities and its potential to enable a different view of the world, through reflection on their own teaching schemes of work and by discussing examples of the geographical power of powerful disciplinary knowledge (presented as geographical story map ‘vignettes’)
  2. grasp the significance of curriculum-making and professional judgment as a deliberate act of sequencing and interpreting what pupils will do with the materials and experiences we provide
  3. evaluate video case-studies of teachers discussing and critically reviewing their attempts at curriculum making and what this means for a ‘Future 3’ curriculum
  4. develop curriculum leadership using ‘lesson study’ and ‘practical theorising’ frameworks to encourage a confident and collaborative understanding of how (geo)capabilities might be used to convey and express the value of geography and thinking geographically in the curriculum and teaching.

Further reading

  • Visit the Geocapabilities website.
  • Read about how capabilities can support teachers in their thinking about why and how to develop students’ sense of the global in an article by David Lambert – see Teaching Geography Autumn 2014, Vol.39, No. 3, pp. 106-107

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