Europeanisation of Geographical Education
Session: European Dimension in Geography,
HEROdot.NET, Tartu, Estonia, 23-29th, June, 2004
the European Curriculum
(Oxford Brookes University, UK)
Europe aspires to become a knowledge-driven society but what
is the character of the ‘knowledge’ that Europe really needs?
United Nations Resolution 57/254
‘United Nations Decade of
Education for Sustainable
• challenges educators to help learners create a better &
more sustainable world
• Kofi Annan: “Sustainable development will not happen of
its own accord. We need a break with the harmful
practices of the past...”
• ESD involves “learning how to make decisions that
consider the long-term future of the economy, ecology &
equity of all communities”
• UNESCO, 2003.
“European Year of
Citizenship through Education”
(Council of Europe, 2005)
Education for Democratic Citizenship (EDC)
project - 3 issues:
1. what knowledge, skills & attitudes do
individuals need to be effective Europeans?
2. how can these be developed?
3. how can people learn to transmit this body
of knowledge, skills & attitudes?
– combines the study of environments & societies
– & should play a key role in EDC & ESD
How should be that knowledge?
• “The knowledge” –
– London taxi drivers must learn ‘the knowledge’, - the
geography, map-routes, & streets of the metropolis,
the rules that govern their use & the transport of
– London’s Hindu community: knowledge comes from
the books called ‘knowledge’, the four holy Vedas.
• John Vernon (1973) compared:
– ‘map consciousness’, where knowledge divides the
world into discrete functional units,
– ‘integrative’ or ‘garden consciousness’, which can find
the infinite in the smallest soil aggregate.
Vernon explored this ‘schizophrenia’ through American
culture & poetry.
Empathy & Education
Elie Weisel, Nobel Prize Laureate & Holocaust survivor, on war criminals:
• “They did not come from the underworld; some came from the
best and most prestigious universities... they had degrees and
even doctorates in medicine, philosophy, jurisprudence and
theology. In other words, they were not shielded by their
education. What was wrong with it? It emphasised theories
instead of values, concepts rather than human beings,
abstraction rather than consciousness, answers instead of
questions, ideology and efficiency rather than conscience”
(Weisel 1990, p.1.).
Koehler (1995) compares knowledge production through education & training:
• “Education, like water, serves many life-supporting needs, but
only if … acquired in a usable form. Training, like a well, is
direct and useful... In the past, education was derided for its
dreamy quality, for turning out people who could not build or
even describe what they dreamed. Training, on the other hand,
was faulted for losing sight of its goals ... Trainees could build
a better conveyor belt, but they didn't or couldn't care whose
bodies were on it or why “ (Koehler, 1995, p1).
Curricula: Problems in Education
UK School Geography textbooks create a ‘worldview
dominated by the North versus the South’.
• European content 51% (1991), 45% (1995) ..
• BUT Europe outside the UK -
European curricula: trapped in
the Industrial Age & Nation State
Our curricula still teach young people that they are both different and separate from their
neighbours & that this makes them superior.
Today’s education favours the corporate world of work more than the Nation State, but it
still trains people to work on ‘Koehler’s conveyor belt’.
Our education system:
• promotes the myth of technology as saviour,
• conflates growth with development,
• equates abundance with well-being,
• relies on the market to achieve equity & social justice
• continues to ignore the rights, not merely of
humanity’s future generations but all other species.
Current educational structures fail to nurture a learner’s
appreciation for the systems of this living world &
even provide an ‘encouragement to disdain them’
(Smith, 2002, p.7).
Self-destruction of our Life
1. The air that we breathe, the water that we drink, the
soils where we grow 99% of our food, & the sewage
farms that help us cope with our wastes are powered by
living systems of bacteria and plants, about which we
know little & over which we have little control.
2. The world is in the grip of a mass extinction of species
that is driven by the human impact on the biosphere.
– Recent estimates suggest that global land use changes may
have resulted in the extinction of 1-29% of all species in
– if tropical deforestation progresses at current rates of 0.43%yr,
a further 6.3% of all species will disappear
– Given current minimal estimates for climate change:
– 24% (Range: 15-37%) of all species may be extinct by 2050
(Thomas et al. 2004).
“The consequences of our failing to
stop the loss of biodiversity are too
awful to contemplate. Our highest
priority should be to guarantee the
health and effective functioning of
the Earth’s life support systems – on
land, the seas and in the air” .
• “Every individual.. has an obligation
and an interest in changing outlooks
through education and by example,
thereby helping to end thoughtless
or deliberate waste and destruction”.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan (2004, p1):
Recycling Used Land
Land means a lot to people.. they may not be
making more - but a lot is being destroyed.
Surface mining destroys land rather completely
• No-one is quite sure how to restore it afterwards.
Much reclaimed land degrades or
remains a cost for a host
community coping with:
– thinning soils,
– cracked drains,
– poor vegetation growth.
Real reclamation means
establishing lands that are not
‘sustainable’ but self-sustaining.
• ‘Self-sustaining’ may be defined
as an economic after use - but if
not - then it must be defined in
terms of natural control.
In the former coal-lands of Britain?
Nature is the only system
capable of sustaining itself.
• Humility: 1st lesson of landscape reconstruction
• Humans cannot create self-sustaining nature.
• Nature is too complicated & too little understood.
• The best that can be done is to try & help nature self-create itself.
• This is less 'engineering' & more midwifery.
• Land reclamation is neither about building new lands nor
reconstructing the environment, nor building ecosystems from
their simple component parts. Such talk is self-delusion.
• Land reclamation is about building a cradle for nature.
• The hope is that this cradle will suffice to nurture an infant
natural geosystem & help it take positive & gentle, not
destructive & violent, control of its habitat.
• Aim - create the preconditions for nature to reconstruct itself.
Calls for ESD
• COPERNICUS Campus Charter charges Universities to
promote environmental literacy & the practice of
environmental ethics in society “Education at all levels,
especially university education for the training of
decision-makers & teachers, should be oriented towards
sustainable development & foster environmentally aware
attitudes...” (COPERNICUS, 1993, p1).
• UNESCO: “Calls on educators, Governments & all
stakeholders to: review the programmes & curricula of
schools & universities, in order to better address the
challenges & opportunities of sustainable development,
with a focus on: creating learning modules which bring
skills, knowledge, reflections, ethics & values together in
a balanced way” (UNESCO, 2002, p1).
Will our society allow Nature to take
priority over immediate social desires?
• “Our legal system fosters a sense of human rights,
with other than human beings having no inherent
rights. Our economic system is based on the
exploitation of the Earth in all its geobiological
systems. Commercial rights to profit prevail over the
urgent needs of natural systems for survival”..
• Our route towards becoming a viable species is “to
shift from a human-centred to an Earth-centred norm
of reality and value”. (T. M. Berry 1999).
UNESCO’s 10 ESD priorities:
poverty alleviation, gender equity,
natural resources – but not the security of nature,
human - but not ecosystem health, rural issues,
human rights – but not those of other organisms,
peace, and multicultural understanding.
Worthy but short-sighted enough for ESD to fall short of
its most essential goal.
Anthropocentrism in ESD
Sustaining Life through
The Way Ahead
Capra (1996) commends we study the world through:
‣ Systems Thinking (once a geographers playground)
‣ Deep Ecology –intuition of seeing oneself within nature.
Arguably, this movement reflects a shift in our society away
‣ from the current materialistic, mechanistic, world-view &
‣ to another founded on ecological systems thinking.
with the biosphere.
1. family of humanity
- sharing history & cultural beliefs,
2. biological species
- sharing an ecological role & impacts
-in the ecosystem it inhabits
Personal self –
1.component in an ecosystem
2. individual wholeness in own right,
3. colony of many billion quasi-independent cells
Reconnecting with Reality
1 st Goal of ESD
Kofi Annan’s 2001 Dhaka speech argues:
“Our biggest challenge in this new century is
to take an idea that sounds abstract –
sustainable development – and turn it into
reality for all the world’s people” (Annan, 2001, p2) .
But, how do you persuade EU undergraduates,
born & raised in an urban / suburban
environment that the natural world, which
they take for granted, is real & matters to
Reconnecting with Reality
Planting trees helps reduce our input of atmospheric carbon
dioxide by locking up carbon in timber & soil.
• Each year, students on the Gaia module plant 250 trees
on campus so keeping it the only ‘carbon neutral’
course. A university should practice what it preaches.
Activity has wider educational objectives.
• Major challenge of ESD is to help people reconnect with
their natural world. This exercise requires learners to get
involved - ‘to get their hands dirty’.
• It also asks learners to write their most sincere hope for
the future & attach this message to the trees they plant.
• 2004’s wishes included hopes that human actions will
not destroy our world & that humans would treat their
fellows with more consideration & respect.
Asked to reflect upon the purpose for this activity:
• Many judged that it helped them repay a debt to Nature
• Others -it helped them think about their role in the world.
Europe would be a Europe of knowledge?
European Citizenship aims to encourage inclusivity, intercultural
understanding & to help people live together
BUT Humans are not the only stakeholders of Europe.
ESD - Education for sustainable development
must rise above the human & help humans
live with the Earth - their life support system.
Geography’s traditions of holism, systems thinking &
fieldwork could provide a vehicle for bringing such
an education to all European citizens?
‣ Geography aspires to be: ‘an integrating study of
the Earth in its comprehensive extent… as a single
reality (Berry, 1999, p86).
‣ Can we make this reality ‘real’ to learners in our
‣ Fieldwork may be our key?