Geopolitics: what should we teach in geography classes?

What should students learn in geography classes at school?

The Dept. of Education convened committees to review school curricula. One of my colleagues, Anders Fridfeldt, was invited to contribute to the geography committee which reported this spring. Their recommendation was that students should learn about global issues such as  globalisation, sustainable development and develop analyses of the wider World.

However, following changes imposed by the Department, the new curricula  to be issued to teachers next autumn will focus on Swedish, Nordic and European cultural landscapes, and knowledge thereof. These changes have resulted in criticism from subject specialists such as Anders Fridfeldt. He argues that this will result in time valuable invested in old fashioned teaching that lacks relevance in the modern World. Minister Jan Björklund counters that it is not old fashioned to expect students to be able to name the capitals of Europe or the larger lakes of Sweden.

This raises a number of questions, not least: how on Earth does a cabinet minister have the time to change details in the school geography curriculum? Anders is understandably concerned that a group of policy experts was overruled by civil servants who are almost certainly not specialists. That is not to say only experts should have input to such policy questions, but why convene an expert group only to throw out their recommendations?

On the Ministers’ understanding of geography I can only concur with my colleague. Secondary school students deserve to be challenged more! Society and industry should expect students in their mid to late teens to have a more nuanced understanding of the World than that delivered by a curriculum reminiscent of the late 19th Century. Not to mention that 10% or more of students will have a full or partial non-Swedish heritage. The politics of geography should not be controversial in modern Sweden. A nativist approach to geography is naive and does not reflect the reality of today’s Sweden, the country’s place in Europe, or the future of Europe and its’ place in the World. That it comes from a government that likes to think of itself as pro-business, pro-entrepreneur, and pro-innovation is disheartening.

You have to wonder what an Infosys manager would think of a potential employee who’s geographic knowledge stopped at Schleswig-Holstein.

‘Stockholm Capital of Scandinavia’? Really?

You can hear Anders’ comments and a reposte by Jan Björklund on Swedish radio here.

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