Over the last few days, the media has featured some criticism of geography as a discipline and those who study it.
The colonial origins of geography and the Society are indisputable. As with all subjects, geography has developed and changed, and continues to do so. Today geography is concerned with issues that affect us all such as globalisation, inequality, flooding, sustainable development and climate change.
Behind the sensational headlines, there is a serious issue. The Society recognises that among those studying geography there is longstanding underrepresentation across all minorities and there is inequality at all levels. This needs to be addressed. But we do see signs of this changing with the next generation of geographers: the number of 16 year olds studying geography GCSE has increased significantly over the last decade. Now 40% of 16 year olds study geography (265,000 entries in 2019), compared to about 27% in 2010.
Notably, this increase in entries has come predominately from groups who have previously been less likely to take geography: Black, Asian and minority ethnic students, disadvantaged students, those with lower prior attainment, and pupils studying in comprehensive schools. This is set against a backdrop of almost equal uptake of geography at GCSE and A Level by female and male students.
The results of independent research recently commissioned by the Society will allow us and the geographical community to better understand these changes and to make evidence based interventions.
One thing is already clear – there is an issue with progression. While the data for GCSE students is encouraging, it also means much more is needed not only from the Society, but from schools, universities and geographers in the workplace.
In the meantime, we urge anyone currently considering choosing geography at GCSE, A Level or university not to be discouraged by the recent media stories. For those considering an application to study geography at university the Society encourages you (and your parents) to visit the universities and see for yourselves the diversity, dedication and drive of the young people currently studying geography.
More information about the value of studying geography at all levels is available at www.rgs.org/chosegeography.