We highlight the importance of geospatial technologies and geographical data to the UK's economy, and, in relation to this, the role of geography and geographers in future industrial development.
Response submitted 2018
The Society welcomes the Education Committee’s interest in the challenges posed and opportunities presented by the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the capacity of the school curriculum to support responses to these opportunities.
Geospatial technologies and geographical data, their context and analysis, are central to the UK’s industrial development. Location and geographical analysis and insights directly underpins three of the 'grand challenges' identified within HMG’s Industrial Strategy, namely:
AI and Data Economy: putting the UK at the forefront of the AI and data revolutions.
Clean Growth: maximising the advantages for UK industry from the global shift to clean growth.
Future of Mobility: becoming a world leader in the way people, goods and services move.
The economic contribution of geography and geo-spatial data to UK plc has been widely recognised. For example, Philip Hammond the Chancellor recently commented that, “The UK has some of the best geospatial data in the world The potential economic value of this data is huge”3 and it is estimated that 10% of our national wealth is reliant on the use of geo-spatial data provided by the Ordnance Survey.
Geo-spatial data will be at the heart of the next phase of Britain’s industrial success through its contribution to ‘big data’ and the geographical analysis which enables better decision making, business efficiencies or policy making and implementation. Such data will shape infrastructure and transport planning, allowing businesses to become more cost efficient and targeted in their operations and underpin the future development of autonomous vehicles.
Geographers are particularly valued for their expertise in Geographic Information Systems (GIS), geostatistics, spatial econometrics and the use of geographic information in scientific visualisations. Demand from employers for these capabilities is increasing in the era of ‘big’ and ‘open’ data. The use of GIS is a required element of the geography Key Stage 3 National Curriculum and the exam specifications for GCSE and A Level. The Society has worked with Esri - the $1Bn leading global provider of GIS technologies – to help roll out resources, and to support and train teachers in the use of a free subscription made available by Esri to all UK schools. Since 2017, over 70,000 pupils now have their own GIS accounts and 1,700+ schools have taken up this free subscription.
Geography has been widely recognised for its use of data and the promotion of data skills amongst its students. The Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)’s ‘Data Skills in Geography’ project has been working across schools and higher education to better support teachers with the enhanced requirements for data skills in the new GCSE and A level specifications.
Geography is by its nature part-STEM (formally recognised as such by Hefce) and is an important vehicle in delivering STEM skills. In this context, we encourage the Committee to adopt a broad understanding of what constitutes a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subject. Geography contributes to the provision of STEM skills at all levels, STEM learning and research, and to the STEM workforce. In the school context, geography spans and combines the social and physical sciences and models.
Our future industrial development will also take place in a post-Brexit Britain within which we will need young people to be confident and knowledgeable about their home nation, be outward looking and internationally engaged, and to have the skills and knowledge to understand how the wider world works The study of geography provides4 for this need.
The Society strongly welcomed the introduction of the EBacc and the inclusion of geography as one of the required humanities GCSEs. This has helped ensure that more young people have studied the core academic subjects and it has specifically helped increase the numbers studying geography. The Society supports the Government’s aim of ensuring that a greater proportion of young people should study the EBacc subjects. In addition, the Society welcomed the identification of A Level geography as a Russell Group’s preferred ‘facilitating subject’, which better support young peoples’ transition into university.
Geography undergraduates report some of the highest levels of student satisfaction with their courses, experience some of the highest completion rates (lowest levels of drop out) and are some of the graduates least likely to experience unemployment when they leave their undergraduate programmes.
There is a growing consensus that more needs to be done to raise the awareness of and ability to use geospatial technologies and data throughout the careers pipeline, from schools to higher education and into the workplace. Within this realm, the Society is liaising closely with the Government’s new GeoSpatial Commission, the newly appointed Head of Geography (within the Government’s Science and Engineering Profession) and the Association for Geographical Information on common agendas. These include exploring skills gaps in relation to the use of geospatial data and also the provision of wider advocacy for its use in schools, higher education and business.
There is a compelling case for the continuing importance of geography within a young person’s statutory education, and for the encouragement of more pupils to study geography at GCSE, A Level and university.
Furthermore, there is, and will continue to be, greater need for more employees in the workplace to become more familiar with and competent in their use of geographical analysis, technologies and geospatial data and their potential to fuel efficiencies and innovation.
1Geography National Curriculum 2013 DfE
2Industrial Strategy: Building a Britain fit for the future. HMG 2017
3The economic potential of geospatial data. HMG 2018
4Geography must be a priority for post Brexit Britain TES 2018
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