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Education and teaching

Explore the impactful contributions of Black geographers, who help shape a more inclusive and diverse future in geography.

Teaching geography gives young people the knowledge, skills and understanding to engage knowledgably and positively with local, national and global concerns – be they social, geopolitical or environmental. Here, we present some of those who actively disseminate geographical knowledge.

Just over 40% of 16 year olds in England study geography, compared to about 27% in 2010. This increase is linked to the inclusion of geography in the English Baccalaureate, which is used as a success measure for schools, however, analysis shows that it is predominantly Black and minority ethnic pupils, those who are disadvantaged, those with lower prior attainment, and those studying in comprehensive schools who have contributed to the increase.

While this increase in numbers is encouraging, geography classrooms still do not reflect the diversity of the world outside their walls. Black teachers and trainee teachers are also underrepresented in geography education, and children must be able to see themselves in the roles they see around them; they can't become what they can't see.

In this section, we highlight the work of three Black geography teachers at different stages of their careers, sharing their passion for the subject and showing how their contagious enthusiasm inspires the next generation. We begin with a Geography Teacher Training Scholar starting his teaching journey, followed by an early career teacher and conclude with a long-serving teacher who has devoted over 30 years to teaching geography.

Shanique Harris

"People are often surprised when I tell them I am a geography teacher and studied the subject for all of my educational life.

"Geography is an amazing subject that crosses all disciplines. It not only speaks to our awe and wonder of the natural world, but enables us to understand and then better appreciate the physical and human landscapes around us.

"It was a field trip to Bournemouth and the Jurassic Coast with my A Level geography teacher, Jane, that cultivated my passion for the subject. My reasons for going into teaching were to share that passion with young people, to encourage and feed a curiosity about the world in them, and essentially equip them with the skills to have informed opinions on issues that affect the United Kingdom.

"Choosing to teach was one of the best decisions I have made. Growing up as a Black girl in South London - although I was lucky enough to travel to Jamaica and the USA regularly to see family - I never really explored the United Kingdom. Since becoming a geography teacher, I have built networks and gained knowledge that has enabled me to see how truly amazing the UK is. I read an article late last year that stated that people from BAME backgrounds make up just 1% of total visitors to UK National Parks! Considering these are free and accessible to us all, this is shocking and needs to change!

"Over the summer, I took my three year old son and four year old daughter, and travelled to see more of the UK than I have seen in all my years of living. We went to the north to see the beauty of the Lake District, as far as the south of Scotland, and also travelled round the multiple beaches on the Kent coast - trips that I know none of my family have ever done.

"Being able to teach in the area I grew up in, I have hopes to encourage students to see the beauty of the UK and, where possible, take them on national field trips that complement the learning in the classroom."

So when asked what geography means to me - it means providing the opportunity to better understand and fruitfully explore our geography, our world, and for me, that has been the United Kingdom and building a greater appreciation for this beautiful land.

Michael Ade-Kunle

"A BA (Hons) Human Geography, an MSc in International Relations and several years' experience in editorial and communications roles have prepared me for what is shaping up to be a unique year for PGCE students. Throughout my career, I’ve been attracted to fast-paced, cerebral roles. As a trainee teacher, I expect my previous skillset will come in handy.

"After parents and guardians, teachers have the most important role in a child’s life. In addition to their regular duties, teachers must sometimes become counsellors, career advisors, and social workers.

"Guiding pupils towards adulthood is a lofty and meaningful task. It’s a huge responsibility that I’m excited to undertake.

"On top of this, we’ve entered a period of economic, environmental and technological uncertainty which will continue to throw societal norms into question and students deserve teachers that are passionate and knowledgeable enough to help them on their way.

"Geography is the ideal subject to address many of these hurdles. It helped me develop a critical mind, to make informed decisions required of global citizens and by employers. By developing the skills to think, write and speak as geographers, my students will go on to play a leading role in shaping a more equitable future for everyone.

"It is such a dynamic subject – one that unravels the planet’s complex natural processes and demonstrates how humans have exploited the resources available to us, with incredible results."

Geography has a valuable role to play in developing responsible citizens, especially in relation to sustainable development.

"We need more geographers in the world, and I hope to inspire my fair share as one of the Society's Geography Teacher Training Scholars and eventually as a fully qualified teacher."

Charity Mhlanga

"I was born, educated and started my teaching career in Zimbabwe. I have been teaching for 30 years; 12 of which were in Zimbabwe and 18 in the UK. My experiences of secondary school teaching have shaped who I am now as a geography teacher. I describe myself as like longshore drift [the movement of material along a shore by wave action]; forever adapting and changing to the environment around me and open to change and learning. I view the students and teachers I interact with as beach material: representing their individuality and diversity.

"Geography is special because it gives the opportunity for students to make sense of the world and their place in it. Knowing how elements of the landscape are formed, and why natural phenomena happen, enriches their experience of the world. The Earth is currently a turbulent place for its inhabitants, and it is important for future generations to understand how human patterns of development, economies and cultures can influence our complex environment for better or for worse. Geography is the study of people, places, and everything in between, which is far more than any textbook can offer.

"My job is rewarding, and I love the sense of community which schools create; from the relationships and interactions with staff and students, being part of the students’ academic journey and inspiring them to reach their potential, to seeing students wake up to the wonders and the intricacies of the world around them as they learn that so many things are interconnected. I also love how geography enables students to be able to see beyond the classroom. It creates and stimulates debate, opinions and opportunities to challenge global issues."

I believe it is extremely important that young people study geography, as they need a deep understanding of global issues. Geography teachers enable students to understand, challenge and question these issues.

"Understanding of the interdependence of Earth’s human and physical systems is important for young people who are going to be future decision-makers in the world. Recent movements around climate change have been driven by the younger generation who are rightfully worried and angry about the lack of sustainability in the way the world currently works, and the lack of accountability and responsibility being taken by those who have power to make a difference."